Sometimes a Great Notion Characters

Ken Kesey

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In the history of American regional literature, Hank Stamper is perhaps the most completely rendered character native to the Pacific Northwest. He is admirable in that he possesses a great integrity to the dictates of his inner self, a self which is a sanctuary, with “a door that can never be forced, whatever the force, a last stronghold that can never be taken, whatever the attack . . . but . . . can only be surrendered. And to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love.” He is a self-reliant man with great confidence in his abilities, a man of tremendous animal vitality who is also sensitive to others. These traits have created a sensibility which embodies typical Western values: a preference for the natural world over the civilized and for individual over collective action; a fierce belief in self-sufficiency; a confidence in instinctive emotions rather than in rational processes. These characteristics have been portrayed in countless Western genre stories and films, and Hank himself is aware of how these values are stereotyped in popular culture. This awareness—which often surfaces in his humor—adds to his rich fictional reality for the reader.

Hank’s character stands in contrast to that of Lee, who has been reared by his emotionally distraught mother, a woman who was faced with marriage to a man—Henry Stamper—who could not fulfill her emotional needs. Lee’s sensibility has been formed by his painful childhood and by Eastern urban society. He is a confused young man, without a real sense of self—immediately before he receives the letter inviting him to Oregon to work in the family logging operation, he attempts suicide. In the Oregon experience, Lee discovers the courage to face life’s circumstances, learning this courage from Hank’s example. He also develops a sense of self, with the corresponding ability not...

(The entire section is 764 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Hank Stamper

Hank Stamper, the head of a small family logging operation in Oregon. He has all the virtues of the traditional hero: self-reliance, physical strength, endurance, courage, determination, and the ability to do the job. His strength of character, in particular his emphasis on independence, creates conflicts not only with the local community but also within his family, especially with his wife and younger half brother. He lives by the motto his father nailed over his bed: “Never Give an Inch.” His independence has been fostered by his lifelong struggle with nature, which he sees as his principal opponent. An element of rivalry is present in all of his relations with people as well. Hank’s determination to fulfill the contract to deliver logs to the mill in spite of a strike by local loggers puts him at odds with the town. Time is running out: The river is rising, not enough men are available to cut the trees, and the machinery is breaking down, as usual. Moreover, dissension from a variety of sources breaks out within the family. Hank perseveres.

Leland (Lee) Stamper

Leland (Lee) Stamper, a graduate student at Yale who returns to help the family fulfill the logging contract. Lee is Hank’s younger half brother, the son of Hank’s father’s second wife, who took Lee to the East after having an affair with Hank. Moody, apprehensive, self-destructive, self-conscious, and willing to play on his own weakness, Lee returns to Oregon with hopes of getting revenge on Hank, on whom he blames his sense of alienation. Lee seduces Hank’s wife. In the meantime, he is initiated into the logging business. He has to prove himself as a logger. The rivalry with Hank is conducted in the woods and in the house.

Henry Stamper

Henry Stamper, the patriarch of the Stamper family. An...

(The entire section is 760 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The protagonists of Sometimes a Great Notion are Hank and Leland Stamper, half-brothers who are the opposites of each other. These...

(The entire section is 450 words.)