The Characters

Because Patrick White develops a distinctive, individual voice for each brother, both emerge as memorable characters, although Arthur Brown is an especially compelling creation. The style of the two middle sections varies according to which brother narrates: Arthur’s chapters are more impressionistic and poetic, while Waldo’s are more straightforward and prosaic. Whereas the prevailing tone of Waldo’s version is one of anger and resentment, Arthur’s story is warm and generous. Waldo presents dry recollections because he filters everything through his intellect: Arthur’s memories, by contrast, are visceral as well as emotional and imaginative. Both styles are realistic in method in the sense that the brothers, their dogs, and their house are evoked in all of their shabby, unlovely detail, but the narrative also relies heavily on symbols such as the mandala as well as on the allegorical implications of twins.

Arthur, the more appealing brother, is a modern version of the noble primitive or God’s fool. Patrick White invokes the stereotype in order to satirize provincial Australian values; because Arthur is good, humble, and incapable of hypocrisy, he stands out as eccentric, even inferior. Except for Dulcie and Mrs. Poulter, both atypical Australian women, the suburban populace (represented by the appropriately named Mrs. Dun) regards Arthur with distaste and fear. Suburbia’s values are entirely materialistic and do not permit acceptance of any...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Characters Discussed

Arthur Brown

Arthur Brown, the fraternal twin brother of Waldo Brown. Arthur is a huge, simpleminded, kindly man who is entirely devoted to his brother Waldo. He considers himself Waldo’s protector, although Waldo is always trying to dissociate himself from his dull-witted brother. Arthur lives by intuition and instinct; he is a noble primitive who sees into the essence of people and things. He is also capable of building meaningful, platonic relationships with women such as Mrs. Poulter and Dulcie Feinstein, both of whom value his innate wisdom. Despite his apparent handicap, Arthur proves himself capable of reading classics such as Fyodor Dostoevski’s The Brothers Karamazov and of writing symbolic poetry. Although he loves dogs and simple things such as tables and chairs, Arthur prizes his collection of glass marbles most of all. In particular, he considers four to be his solid mandalas, or symbols of totality and wholeness. Arthur keeps these with him always, until he decides to give them to the people who mean the most to him: Waldo, Dulcie, and Mrs. Poulter. Waldo refuses his mandala, a rejection that makes Arthur ineffably sad. In the end, though, it is Arthur who endures.

Waldo Brown

Waldo Brown, the fraternal twin brother of Arthur. Waldo is Arthur’s opposite in every way. Thin, moody, and self-centered, Waldo is capable of great anger and cruelty toward his well-meaning sibling. Arthur is an embarrassment to Waldo, and Waldo is burdened with him throughout their lives. Waldo considers himself an intellectual: He has some schooling and works for years in the local library. He also has literary ambitions and actually starts work on a novel. Waldo’s writing is uninspired because his mind is so disconnected from his emotions. He remains half a man, and that is why Arthur’s unwitting successes so infuriate him. Waldo, like Arthur, pursues both Dulcie and Mrs. Poulter, not because he loves them...

(The entire section is 803 words.)