Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317
All the characters in the story, with perhaps the exception of Clement Musgrove, are one-dimensional figures drawn from American folklore and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. What makes Clement more complex is his awareness of the changing nature of the frontier and his knowledge of the essential duality of life—both central themes in the story. Clement tells Jamie earlier in the novel that the Indians know their time has come; “they are sure of the future growing smaller always, and that lets them be infinitely gay and cruel.” When he discovers that Jamie is both the gentleman he met and the bandit who raped his daughter, he says that all things are double: “All things are divided in half—night and day, the soul and body, and sorrow and joy and youth and age. . . .” Thus, Clement is the central figure, both innocent in the ways of the world and wise in the meaning of that which he discovers.
Jamie, the robber bridegroom, is the central embodiment of the novel’s duality; he is both the handsome prince who comes to claim the beautiful daughter, as well as the stereotypical outlaw of the old frontier. Rosamond is the beautiful princess who at first rebuffs and then accepts her captor and violator; she is the fanciful and resilient adolescent heroine of countless fairy tales. Salome, the evil stepmother, not only is jealous of Rosamond’s beauty but also is an embodiment of the grasping materialism that gradually destroys the freedom of the frontier, for she continually insists that Clement increase his land holdings and build an empire in the wilderness. The minor characters—Mike Fink, Goat, and the Harp brothers—are the stock figures of folklore and fairy tale. They are both functions of the plot, serving to further the complications of the action, and embodiments of the violence and grotesque humor inherent in folk traditions.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 797
Clement Musgrove, an innocent backwoods planter. After his son and wife are killed by Indians, Clement escapes with Salome and his daughter. He marries Salome to look after his child and becomes a planter on the Mississippi River. Although he is rich, he is not greedy; in fact, he does not even know how much he is worth. After Rosamond is kidnapped, he and Jamie Lockhart search for her in the forest, but in vain. When he hears Goat shouting “Jamie Lockhart is the bandit,” Clement becomes so disillusioned that he wanders aimlessly in the forest, where he is captured by Indians. After Salome dies, the Indians release him. Convinced that Rosamond has been eaten by a panther, he is overjoyed when he accidentally meets her in New Orleans.
Salome, Clement’s second wife. After being captured by the Indians, this ugly woman is consumed by greed and ambition, which drive her to encourage Clement to plant more profitable crops, build a finer house, and increase the size of his plantation. Even though Clement constantly buys her gifts, she is envious of the ones that he buys Rosamond, especially a fine green dress. She sends Rosamond out to the woods every day to collect herbs in the hope that an animal or an Indian will kill her, but to no avail. In desperation, she hires Goat to spy on Rosamond, but he is unable to turn up any hard evidence against the girl. Eventually, Salome’s jealousy leads to her own destruction. She persuades her Indian captors to choose her instead of Rosamond as their sacrifice, and she drops dead during a ritualistic dance to the sun.
Rosamond, Clement’s beautiful daughter. Haunted by the opinion that her dead mother would have of her, she blindly obeys her stepmother. Contrary to Salome’s accusations, Rosamond is not vain, but she is an inveterate liar. Even though Jamie Lockhart steals her dress, rapes her, and abducts her, she falls in love with him and devotes herself to cleaning his house and making him happy. After removing the berry stains from his face with her stepmother’s potion, she discovers his identity and, thinking that he has no honor, leaves him. Having escaped from the Indians by promising to marry Goat, she becomes lost in the woods while looking for Jamie and eventually tracks him down in New Orleans. They are married shortly before she gives birth to twins.
Jamie Lockhart, a gentleman bandit. After helping Clement elude Mike Fink, Jamie is invited to Clement’s house. Although Rosamond serves him dinner, Jamie does not recognize her as the girl he raped in the woods. After Jamie abducts Rosamond, Clement asks him to find his daughter, but Jamie brings Clement the wrong girl by mistake. After he escapes from the Indians, Jamie mistakes the bones of an Indian maiden for those of Rosamond and runs wild through the woods. Just as he is boarding a boat in New Orleans, he is reunited with Rosamond. He marries her and becomes a rich merchant.
Mike Fink, a legendary river boatman. Standing six and a half feet tall, this boasting giant tries to murder Clement Musgrove and Jamie Lockhart at an inn at Rodney’s Landing so that he can steal their gold. He beats the sugarcane that the two men have substituted for their bodies in bed. When they reappear from the wardrobe, he escapes through the window and becomes a mail rider. Still thinking that Jamie is dead, he tells Rosamond at the end of the novel that he has seen Jamie’s ghost in New Orleans. Afterward, he returns to the river and is restored to his former glory.
Goat, Salome’s assistant and Clement’s neighbor. Driven by his desire to help his mother marry off his six virgin sisters, he agrees to spy on Rosamond for Salome, and he takes his oldest sister to Little Harp, who he thinks is rich. After rescuing Rosamond from the Indians, he takes Big Harp’s head to the authorities, who believe the head to be Jamie Lockhart’s, and receives a bag of gold, which he plans to give to his sisters when they marry.
Little Harp, an ugly bandit. Having talked Goat into working for him, he persuades Goat to give him his hen, his pig, and his sister, but he loses Goat’s sister to Jamie, who punches him in the stomach. To get even with Jamie, Little Harp tries to take over his gang and even murders an Indian maiden who he thinks is Jamie’s girl. After he and the bandits are captured by the Indians, he is stabbed in the heart by Jamie Lockhart.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 194
Working as she does with the fairy tale mode, Welty deliberately creates stereotypical figures, most of whom are one-dimensional and static. As Welty points out in a talk she delivered on The Robber Bridegroom before the Mississippi Historical Society, she uses only one word to describe her planter, Clement Musgrove, the word "innocent." That word, she says, "shines like a cautionary blinker to what lies on the road ahead." Clement's wife, the evil Salome, is also one-dimensional as are the clownish Goat, the braggart Mike Fink, and the bloodthirsty Little Harp. Rosamond, Clement's daughter, and her lover, Jamie Lockhart, however, are dual-natured. When the beautiful Rosamond opens her mouth the lies fall out "like diamonds and pearls." Furthermore, when she meets Jamie in the woods she pretends to be someone other than herself. He, too, wears two faces. In civilized company, he is Jamie Lockhart, handsome gentleman; but in the wilderness he is the fierce bandit chief who stains his face with berry juice to hide his true identity. Only Rosamond and Jamie undergo change in the course of the novel, both coming to understand the importance of honesty and trust among human beings.