The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Sundown is both a chronicle and a didactic exercise. Mathews’s characters are thereby denied some of their potential dimensions so that the author can better convey his principal message: Namely that because of their values, the Osage are victims of the dubious concept of “progress” as embodied in white American society.

Chal, Mathews’s mixed-blood protagonist, exemplifies the degradation that befell most American Indian cultures, unable as they were to maintain tribal integrity in the face of white incursions into their lands and values. Chal’s heart looks in two directions. On the one hand, he profoundly enjoys and respects the fraternity with nature taught by the Osage’s full-blooded elders; in a more specific way, he seeks to make his Osage mother proud of him within her traditional frame of reference. Yet on the other hand, he is drawn by the positive, confident, and assertive views of John Windzer, his white father, who doggedly persists in believing that the government will rectify the manifest injustices and dangers to which the Osage are exposed by the white people flooding into their midst. Chal is unsuited to function positively in either world, and he is confused by the attractions and repulsions of each.

While Chal’s boyhood reactions to several white characters—merchants such as Jep Newberg and Mr. Fancher, teachers such as Miss Hoover, Christian do-gooders such as Cousin Ellen, and oilmen such as Osage...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Windzer

John Windzer, Challenge’s father, a representative of the Osages when the government seeks oil rights on Osage land. When Washington reduces its royalties, the Osages blame John and the government brands John a traitor for advocating Osage leases. John turns temporarily to drink. He recovers, however, and continues to work for the Osages, raise horses, and farm—with the help of a tenant—320 acres. John always expresses pride in Challenge. After John’s murder, Challenge, now an adult, discovers that John has left $25,000 in the bank for them.

Challenge’s mother

Challenge’s mother, who in the beginning dresses in Osage clothing but gives up her blanket, moccasins, and beads when her son goes to the university. She displays Challenge’s pictures and books, and she reads all of his college catalog. After John’s death, she becomes more verbal. She tells Challenge of John’s work for a law to provide care for children and orphans and explains that with money this guardianship will come more easily. She professes that her husband may not have believed that the government would not cheat the Osage and that his death itself shows that civilization has not really come to the Osage Hills.


Challenge, the protagonist. From his birth until his college years, Challenge seems to contemplate each word and action. He proceeds through school and enters the university, where he pledges a fraternity, plays football, and joins the Iron Men cheering squad. Challenge often feels out of step in the outside world. His inner world is a combination of reality and fantasy until he enters the military and begins to fit into “civilization.” Challenge becomes a pilot and serves his country. While still an aviator, Challenge learns that his father has been shot and killed. Challenge experiences a conflict in his emotions when he returns...

(The entire section is 788 words.)