The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In keeping with the conventions of the picaresque novel, Turvey is a realistic figure but at the same time a humorous re-creation of the author’s experience and those of hundreds of soldiers whom he interviewed during World War II. Earle Birney described his intentions plainly: “My central character was going to be a dumb backwoods private, an innocent born for trouble, a youth with the cheerfulness and reckless morale of a hero but with the intellectual and soldierly capacities of a farmyard duck.” Yet Turvey is far from static as he gradually recognizes his place in the machinery of war. Just as he has a nervous habit of grinning whenever he is anxious, so he carries with him an innate common sense to balance his gullibility; whether Turvey realizes his ironic stance, it is the principal vehicle for the satire which is the ground note of the novel.

Initially, Turvey appears to be a simple victim of circumstances, usually reflected physically (he fractures his ankle in basic training because of a mistake by a literal-minded sergeant; a night orderly absently paints him with the wrong potion to prevent venereal disease). Yet after he is fired at by a fellow recruit, he is easily persuaded to hitchhike to Buffalo, New York, to spend the weekend illegally with two women. Turvey can and will cope with his newly disciplined life but always with his own logic, which invariably gets him into further trouble. Never passive in response to the powers which dictate his three years in the army, Turvey increasingly manages to turn military follies, however well-intentioned, to his own ends, however dimly perceived.

Mac is both the object of Turvey’s almost romantic quest for action and the catalyst for...

(The entire section is 704 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Thomas Leadbeater “Tops” Turvey

Thomas Leadbeater “Tops” Turvey, the somewhat befuddled, persistently cheerful hero of this satire of Canadian military life. He is backward and painfully lacking in sophistication. He was born in Shookum Falls, British Columbia, on May 13, 1922, went to school only through the ninth grade, and has an employment record that leads nowhere (cucumber pickler, worker in a hat factory, popsicle coater, assistant flavor manager in a candy factory, and oiler in a mosquito-control gang). Lured by a spirit of adventure, he desires to become a soldier. His first attempts to enlist in the army and in the air force are unsuccessful. When the national need for manpower increases with the outbreak of war, he is finally inducted. The character of this army seems clear: If it can take Turvey, it will take anyone. Turvey hopes to fight in a good regiment, specifically the Kootenay Highlanders, in which his best friend, Gillis MacGillicuddy, serves. This determination propels him through a series of situations in which his incompetence and bumbling depict the military and its leaders in an increasingly nonsensical light. Turvey’s army jobs are just as dead-end as those in civilian life. His routine infraction of rules and petty lawbreaking earn for him constant company punishment. He is a Parsifal, incapable of understanding any world that does not coincide with his own. An eternal bumpkin, he is readily gulled by others, most of these more misguided than himself, to whom he looks for guidance and leadership. Thus, he is court-martialed for being absent without leave because he impulsively follows a friend to Buffalo to spend the Christmas holidays with two women. He is sentenced to forty-five days detention, but this, as with the punishment he receives from further escapades, is not sufficiently onerous to destroy his good humor....

(The entire section is 766 words.)