As is appropriate, given Bradbury’s intentions, the protagonists, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, are essentially allegorical figures rather than realistic, fully developed characters. In the novel, they function as Bradbury’s picture of boyhood split in two, portraying the dual nature of boys, innocence and mischief, nostalgia and the passionate desire to gain the status of an adult. The story’s events take place just before their fourteenth year, so they are in a time between carefree childhood and adolescence, which brings the beginnings of responsibility. The carnival is their first direct contact with the malevolent yet attractive outer world. Will, content to remain a child, is repulsed by the Shadow Show. His danger is that he will be paralyzed by fear, as at one point he is paralyzed by a fortune-teller’s magic, yet Will does acquire the courage to strike back at the freaks in order to save Jim, indicating that he is growing up. By contrast, Jim is eager to enter the adult world by any means and nearly joins the carnival to accomplish this. Jim’s interest in life’s dark side is not in itself evil, but it could easily lead to perversity. By the novel’s end, his restless spirit has been chastened by his contact with Cooger and Dark, and he is ready to develop at a natural pace.
Cooger and Dark, the carnival’s proprietors, are living embodiments of evil. Dark, with his tattoo-covered body, is obviously taken from Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (1951), while Cooger and his carousel transformations had previously appeared in “The Dark Ferris” (1948). They and their followers are the “autumn people,” according to Mr. Halloway, those who fear the approach of winter and death so much that they...
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