The Scorched-Wood People Characters

Rudy Wiebe

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Pierre Falcon’s is a decidedly biased view of the characters he sketches. The English and Scottish Canadians are unfailingly depicted as stiff, dry, and deceitful; the Metis, by contrast, prove uncomplicated, emotional, and full of vitality. As a result, it is the Metis who stand out as fully fleshed characters. The ultimate challenge to Falcon’s skill as narrator, though, lies in bringing Louis Riel to life. The Metis leader is a complex man, given to introspection in the form of visions and prayers: In his essential solitude and pious habits, Riel seems unlike the rest of his race. From time to time, however, he does blaze forth in impassioned speeches that mesmerize his listeners—or so Falcon says. It is supremely difficult to convey the charisma of a man such as Riel in words: Falcon acknowledges this but tries to do so anyway by focusing on those around Riel for their reaction to him. Characters such as Dumont, himself not given to religious devotion and therefore puzzled by it in Riel, nevertheless implicitly believe with Riel that their mission is God-ordained. There are those who profess throughout the work that one has only to gaze into Riel’s eyes or spend time in his presence to be totally under his spell. Wherever he goes, Riel commands attention and respect, even among his detractors.

Falcon’s binary vision ultimately succeeds in bringing the enigma that is Riel to life. He reproduces letters to and from Riel, as well as some of his...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Louis Riel

Louis Riel, a visionary, the leader of the Métis people and founder of the province of Manitoba. Born in the Canadian West in 1844, Riel is educated in Montreal by priests. Despite his desire to enter the priesthood, Riel returns to his people, determined to improve their lot. He finds the Métis living in poverty, their way of life threatened and their plight ignored by the greedy Hudson’s Bay Company. Riel is a complex man: Devout, pious, and solitary, he is also clever, charismatic, and an impassioned speaker. In 1869, with the help of Gabriel Dumont and his army, Riel captures Fort Garry from the company, proclaims a Provisional Government of the North-West, and declares himself its president. Like many idealists, Riel is also naïve. One of his first mistakes is to execute a white man, Thomas Scott, in 1870. The act brands him as an outlaw. Despite the fact that Riel is elected as a member of Parliament for his region, a bounty is put on his head, and he is obliged to seek exile in the United States. He settles in Montana, marries and has children, and teaches there until Dumont arrives in 1884 to entice him to Saskatchewan. A quiet, introspective man given to seeing visions, Riel believes that God is calling him to return, and he goes. The Métis arm themselves but are defeated at Batoche, Saskatchewan, by the Canadian army. Riel gives himself up, is tried, and is hanged in Regina on November 16, 1885.

Gabriel Dumont

Gabriel Dumont, a buffalo hunter, friend of Riel, and military leader of the Métis. Dumont is a great, burly man, uneducated and accustomed to leading a rough, simple life. Although not himself religious, Dumont respects Riel’s devoutness and willingly follows his spiritual leadership. It is he who persuades Riel to...

(The entire section is 736 words.)