The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Cullinane, the head archaeologist of the dig, is not only responsible for commenting upon the historical aspects of the artifacts found in the tell, but also instigates the philosophical questions that run throughout the novel. A scholar, an Irish Catholic, and most important, a man free from any preconceived prejudices (at least as free as anyone can be), Cullinane is anxious to immerse himself in the history of the Jews, and by extension the Arabs, in order to discover the “spirit” that built Makor. He is a man with both “enthusiasm and a shovel,” who probes not only the earth but also the hearts of its people.

Michener is not known for his ability to create compelling characters (after all, in a novel covering twelve thousand years they are onstage for such a short time), but his characters are functional to the movement of his novels, especially The Source. As for Cullinane, one can see Michener himself as the prototype for the archaeologist: one who travels to a land, probes,digs (literally and figuratively), searches for information, questions, listens, and above all tries to understand. This is what Michener did while writing this novel, and this is what Cullinane does throughout the novel. He asks age-old questions to which Michener wants the answers.

As for Jemail Tabari and Ilan Eliav, they too are important for their function in the novel, rather than in any sense of character development. Each in his own way represents the “new” man of modern Islam and modern Israel. If at one time they were deadly enemies (as were their ancestors), now they are able to work side by side at the dig, with the hope that they will also work side by side in settling the strife between their two peoples. These are...

(The entire section is 718 words.)