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.)