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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 846

Stan Parker

Stan Parker, an ordinary, hardworking, twentieth century Australian farmer. He is the son of a blacksmith and an educated mother. After his parents’ deaths, Stan leaves the bush town where he grew up and moves to a piece of property he had inherited in an unsettled area near...

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Stan Parker

Stan Parker, an ordinary, hardworking, twentieth century Australian farmer. He is the son of a blacksmith and an educated mother. After his parents’ deaths, Stan leaves the bush town where he grew up and moves to a piece of property he had inherited in an unsettled area near Sydney. He carves out a home and the beginning of a farm in the wilderness, then marries Amy, whom he meets at a dance in a nearby town. They settle into a humdrum life centered on domestic chores and rearing children. They live uneventfully for the next fifty or so years. Although Stan’s relationship with his wife is a close one, it is never demonstrative or charged with passion. Service in France during World War I marks the only time Stan leaves the farm for an extended period. This experience has little effect on his outward life, which continues in its set pattern. What makes Stan an intriguing character is his inner life, at which the narrative only hints. The author reveals early on that Stan is no interpreter of his feelings and aspirations. Later, the reader learns that Stan harbors a desire that had never been fulfilled, to express himself in substance or words. This would-be visionary and interpreter lives to be an old man. Shortly before he dies, he manages to say “I believe,” because it had at last become clear to him “that One, and no other figure, is the answer to all sums.”

Amy Fibbens Parker

Amy Fibbens Parker, a simple, industrious woman who on the surface appears to be an ideal wife and loving mother. Until she marries Stan, Amy lives on the fringes of conventional, small-town Australian society, with an aunt and uncle who have too many children and lack ambition. Once settled with Stan, she learns to love and respect her silent and thoroughly good husband. She takes pride in her household chores and in the role of wife and mother, even though her son eventually disappoints her because she cannot possess him. The desire to possess emerges as Amy’s flaw. She reveals a mean streak when her will is thwarted in family relationships, even with her calm, patient husband. Convinced that there is more to life than what she has discovered, she explores the possibilities of passion in a brief affair with a traveling salesman, but that fails. Present at her husband’s death and still alive at the end of the novel, Amy is last seen whimpering a little for remnants of love and habit.

Thelma Parker

Thelma Parker, Stan and Amy’s daughter. Cold and calculating as a child, Thelma dreams of leaving the farm and fulfilling her desire to be cultured and sophisticated. Her parents provide her with the means to reach this goal by sending her to business college in Sydney. Eventually hired as a secretary in a law office, Thelma sees her efficiency and ambition work in her favor when one of the lawyers—equally sterile and cold—marries her and provides her with financial security and social prestige. Thelma emerges at times as a caricature of a pretentious woman determined to be cultured and tasteful, but she remains faithful to her parents and their needs as they grow older. By no means a bad woman, Thelma—though hardly aware of it—seeks inward meaning in spite of her outward success.

Ray Parker

Ray Parker, Stan and Amy’s wayward son. Adored by Amy and ignored by Stan, Ray early on shows a tendency toward violence and cruelty. Like the rest of the family, he longs for something beyond the ordinary and desires something indefinable. Stan apprentices him to a saddle maker in a nearby village, but Ray soon leaves to seek a fuller, richer life. Thereafter, he appears only occasionally, mainly to borrow money. Following years of wandering across Australia, at times serving prison sentences for various crimes, Ray turns up in Sydney and marries a simple but decent woman. Unable to settle, he deserts his wife for a prostitute and is eventually murdered. It is Ray’s son who offers hope at the end of the novel by pledging to put into poetry the things his grandfather knew but was unable to express.

Mrs. O’Dowd

Mrs. O’Dowd, a neighbor. Of all the minor characters who pass through the lives of the Parkers, Mrs. O’Dowd emerges as the most colorful and memorable. The first settlers in the area after the Parkers, Mrs. O’Dowd and her drunken husband are in part comic and in part pathetic. She relishes carrying bad news to her neighbors, takes pleasure in pointing out others’ shortcomings, and enjoys reporting other people’s misfortunes. An ignorant and crude woman who tolerates her husband’s drinking, even joining him at times, and who lives in a state of filth, Mrs. O’Dowd does not question life, does not look beyond its surface, and faces living and all the accompanying misery without complaint. In this way, she serves as an antithesis to her friend Amy.

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