Characters

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

Wallace Stegner's 1976 novel, The Spectator Bird, tells the emotive story of Joe Allston, a retired literary agent who feels as if he has lived his life as a "spectator," both during his career and during his retirement. His loving and obliging wife, Ruth, is more engaged socially, and does her best to bring her husband out of his shell. Joe's neighbor, Ben, is a foil for Joe, as he seems to age with poise and complacency. According to the begrudging Joe, "Ben is the very chief of the tribe that makes old age out to be a time of liberation" (9). Their other neighbors, Edith and Tom Patterson, are a demure and distinguished older couple. Tom is an architect, and Edith is friendly with Ruth. The couple frequently invites Joe and Ruth over for dinner.

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Finally, a quite important, if absent, character in Stegner's novel is Astrid. She is a Danish Countess with whom Joe and Ruth had stayed while visiting Denmark after their son's death. A postcard from Astrid encourages Joe to betray an emotion which prompts Ruth to ask about her. This leads the couple to reminisce in an unusual but therapeutic way: Joe reads aloud to Ruth a journal he kept on the trip, including details exposing Joe's momentary intimacy with Astrid. Although Ruth expects that the journal will be "painful to read" (27), she encourages her husband to "read some more before we get into a real fight" (37). The couple reexamines their relationship and works to cultivate an enduring marriage despite the instance of infidelity. Astrid and her memory are the catalyst for the mature, loving couple to work on their marriage.

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