Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mr. Gray

Mr. Gray, the pilot, presumably the alias of John Paul Jones, who, betrayed by his native Britain, supports the cause of the American rebels. Picked up by an American frigate off the hazardous northeast coast of England, he gives immediate assistance by guiding the ship through the shoals during a gale. The member of a landing party dispatched to raid the homes of the gentry and to bring off political prisoners, Mr. Gray is captured and imprisoned at St. Ruth’s Abbey. There, he has an unexpected visitor, an old love, Alice Dunscombe. After his escape from an intoxicated British officer he rejoins the main body of raiders and narrowly misses being captured again. In the end, he proves decisive in freeing his comrades, saving the frigate in a running fight against three enemy ships, and sailing it out of the shoals on a course toward Holland and safety. Surrounded by mystery and motivated by glory, he leaves Alice Dunscombe forever.

Lieutenant Richard Barnstable

Lieutenant Richard Barnstable, the reckless officer of the schooner Ariel and the suitor of Katherine Plowden, the ward of an American loyalist, Colonel Howard. In a romantic attempt to kidnap her, he is caught but escapes a short time later. Returning to his ship, he captures the English cutter Alacrity. His own ship is wrecked during a storm. After he assists in the rescue of his comrades from Colonel Howard’s home, he and Katherine are married aboard the American frigate.

Edward Griffith

Edward Griffith, the bold yet sensible first lieutenant of the frigate, Barnstable’s friend, and the suitor of Cecilia Howard, one of Colonel Howard’s nieces. As the leader of the raiding party sent ashore from the frigate, he is twice captured, twice rescued, and finally married to his love. Throughout, his pride is piqued by Mr. Gray’s assumptions of authority, but he comes to respect the mysterious pilot.

Colonel Howard


(The entire section is 819 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Darnell, Donald. “Manners in a Revolution: The Spy, The Pilot, and Lionel Lincoln.” In James Fenimore Cooper: Novelists of Manners. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Discusses Cooper’s ambivalence toward his hero, John Paul Jones, a strong leader of questionable ethics. Darnell believes Cooper’s criticism of Jones stems from Jones’s humble birth, which makes him unfit for true heroism.

House, Kay Seymour. “The Unstable Element.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wayne Fields. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. Describes how the sea functions for Cooper’s seamen much as the forest does for his frontiersmen. Tom Coffin shares many traits with Natty Bumppo, and both show what can happen to the common man when he is challenged by the elements.

Philbrick, Thomas. James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961. Claims for Cooper the title of creator of the genre of the American sea novel. Shows how Cooper drew from history and from British writers to write The Pilot.

Ringe, Donald A. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Twayne, 1962. The best book-length introduction to Cooper. The brief section on The Pilot describes themes and influences, and shows the importance of physical environment to this novel.

Walker, Warren S. “The Gull’s Way.” In James Fenimore Cooper: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962. Describes how The Pilot established the genre of the sea novel in America, and traces the influences of earlier British sea novels. Includes a chronology and a bibliography.