The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Much of Douglas’s strength lies in her characterization. She does well writing a first-person account from a male point of view and her skillfully crafted Alan McLaurin grows from a naive, idealistic youth into a cynical, worldly man. He becomes a metaphor, in some ways, for so many in his generation whose idealism was fueled by a protest against a war in which they did not believe and a struggle to correct a region’s racial attitudes, which were clearly oppressive. Then his generation grew up to find a morally ambiguous world. He grows up by searching for the real story of the past and matures as he puts together some of the unpleasant aspects of that painful reality. In the final chapter, Alan McLaurin displays a certain confidence and peacefulness—much like the confidence displayed in his new South as it, too, emerges from a trial by baptism and fire.

Douglas’s other characters all exhibit originality. She avoids cliched Southern characters but still represents all aspects of the South about which she writes. For example, the free-spirited Aunt Leila puts love and compassion ahead of community mores, but she is still a Southerner. She loves Sam Daniels; his being black does not matter.

Dallas Boykin represents the confused, poor Southerner. After fighting for his country in Vietnam and against racial equality in the South, he emerges at the end of the 1970’s confused and quietly angry. Feeling guilty for his transgressions, he...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alan McLaurin

Alan McLaurin, the narrator of the story. Alan is twenty-nine years old in 1978, the year he records the events of two earlier years, 1964 and 1971. At the time of the main action of the novel, 1971, Alan is twenty-two, a conscientious objector, a college dropout, and a would-be poet. He has returned to Mississippi to take up residence on his family’s land at Chickasaw Ridge. Haunted by the death of his older cousin, Phoebe, Alan has left behind Miriam, the girlfriend who reminds him of his lost love. During the course of a few months spent in the remoteness of Chickasaw, Alan is reunited with several people connected with the fateful summer of 1964. After Miriam and his aunt join him at the farm, he learns the truth about his cousin’s death. The narrative he creates seven years after the events of 1971 records his reactions at the time and his more mature reflections several years later.

Phoebe Chipman

Phoebe Chipman, Alan’s beautiful and gifted cousin. Her death in a fiery automobile accident in the summer of 1964 has been a constant burden for Alan, who thought that Phoebe was destined to achieve great things.

Dallas Boykin

Dallas Boykin, a pulp wood cutter. Dallas, a Vietnam veteran who says that he learned to enjoy killing during the war, has returned to Chickasaw, married a young woman from a nearby town, fathered a child, and, from all appearances, settled down. Dallas feels oppressed because he cannot achieve a religious experience that will bring him peace. He finally makes his spiritual breakthrough by confessing his role in Phoebe’s death: He fired the shot that caused the accident that took her life.

Miriam West

Miriam West, Alan’s Northern girlfriend. After she arrives at Chickasaw, she becomes romantically involved with Alan’s boyhood acquaintance, Lee, and eventually deserts Alan to accompany Lee to New Orleans.

Lindsay Lee Boykin

Lindsay Lee Boykin, Dallas Boykin’s younger brother. He has also returned to Chickasaw in the winter of 1971. Lee, as he now prefers to be called, has been living in New Orleans, where he has become a hippie. His long hair and flamboyant clothing, as well as his attempts to interview and photograph the country people of Chickasaw for a projected newspaper article, bring him trouble. After he...

(The entire section is 981 words.)