The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Soldiers’ Pay reveals clearly the nature of Faulkner’s mastery of characterization, the genius with which he conjures in the reader’s mind vivid and convincing characters. His technique combines luminous detail with understatement: A few significant strokes are often sufficient to bring a character to life. This method invites the reader to become a cocreator of the character, allowing him to project himself into the narrative and to supply with his own imagination the missing details.

In addition, Faulkner brings the reader into the narrative by involving him in the points of view of the characters themselves: A character is seen primarily as others in the narrative see him. For example, Donald Mahon is not described from an objective, omniscient point of view when he first appears in the novel. Rather, the reader sees him as Julian Lowe first does: “He saw a belt and wings, he rose and met a young face with a dreadful scar across his brow.” Similarly, when Jones sees a photograph of Mahon as a boy, the narrative lets the reader in on his perspective: “The boy was about eighteen and coatless: beneath unruly hair, Jones saw a thin face with a delicate pointed chin and wild, soft eyes.” The subjective, impressionistic manner in which characters are rendered is also clearly demonstrated by Lowe’s description of Margaret Powers: He remarks on “her pallid distinction, her black hair, the red scar of her mouth, her slim dark dress,” a description which becomes even more quintessential a few pages later, where...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Donald Mahon

Donald Mahon, a flyer dying of wounds suffered in World War I. Wild like a faun in his youth, he was shot down and now is going blind, has lost most of his memory, is not fully conscious, and says little. His face is so dreadfully scarred that it shocks people, revealing their natures. He brings out the best in some and the worst in others. As the novel begins, he is coming back from the war by train to his home in a small town in Georgia, where he is engaged to a prominent Southern belle. At the end, his death, like the war, significantly changes the lives of some characters while not affecting others at all.

Margaret Powers

Margaret Powers, a young war widow on the train who nurses and, shortly before his death, marries Mahon. Tall, slim, dark, and pallid, with a mouth like a red scar, she is an independent woman of twenty-four, self-contained, unconventional, and the most intelligent, perceptive character in the novel. Some intend to insult her by calling her a black woman. Her compassion for Mahon is motivated to some extent by guilt about the way she broke off with her first husband, also a young officer, shortly before he was killed at the front by one of his own men. At the end, she declines a marriage proposal from Joe Gilligan and sets out on her own.

Joe Gilligan

Joe Gilligan, a discharged American soldier who serves as Donald Mahon’s guardian throughout the novel, regarding him as the kind of son he would have liked to have. An easygoing, talkative man of thirty-two, with a sense of humor and a capacity for self-sacrifice, he is almost the only person to whom Mahon speaks. He is a strong, mature man, and when Margaret Powers declines his...

(The entire section is 714 words.)