The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Clement Musgrove

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...

(The entire section is 797 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Working as she does with the fairy tale mode, Welty deliberately creates stereotypical figures, most of whom are one-dimensional and static....

(The entire section is 194 words.)