The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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The Virginian Characters

The main characters in The Virginian are the narrator, the Virginian, and Molly Stark Wood.

  • The narrator is an unnamed New Yorker who moves out West, where he meets and immediately admires the Virginian.
  • The Virginian is a young cowboy who, though originally from the South, comes to embody the American West. Intelligent, brave, and honorable, he matures over the course of the novel, leaving behind an initial fondness for practical jokes.
  • Molly Stark Wood is a schoolteacher who moves to Bear Creek, Wyoming, from Vermont. She takes it upon herself to educate the Virginian and ultimately marries him.

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Characters

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The Narrator

The narrator initially features as a character in the story. Although the literary style of narration does not vary significantly, later chapters, particularly those featuring Molly Stark Wood, employ a more detached, omniscient perspective. When the narrator appears as a character, he is conspicuous mainly for his East Coast manners and English clothes, leading him to be called “the Prince of Wales” in Medicine Bow and “the Tenderfoot” at the Sunk Creek ranch. He immediately admires the Virginian and is eager to be on friendly terms with him.

The Virginian

The Virginian is a tall, slim, handsome, dark-haired young man. When he first appears, he is fond of joking and playing pranks, but as the story progresses, he leaves such boyish exploits behind and becomes a more serious and authoritative figure. He is intelligent, though without much education until he begins to borrow books from Molly, and displays natural good taste and good manners. Although he is a stranger in the West, being a Virginian and speaking in a Southern drawl, by the time the novel begins he is thoroughly immersed in the culture of the American West. His physical dexterity and capacity for hard work are remarkable, and he has a strong sense of honor.

Molly Stark Wood

Molly, like both the narrator and the Virginian, is an East Coast outsider. She comes from Bennington, Vermont, to take up the position of schoolmarm in the small community of Bear Creek. She is notable for her independence and strong will, and carefully hides her emotions for fear of being thought weak. Molly is dedicated to her teaching and is able to begin a relationship with the Virginian only when she takes his literary education in hand. She is a civilizing influence on her community and on the Virginian, whose wild spirit she manages, to some degree, to tame.

Trampas

Trampas is the principal villain of the novel, the antagonist to the Virginian. He is a cowboy who accuses the Virginian of cheating at cards at the beginning of the novel and later works with him on Judge Henry’s ranch. Trampas is not a particularly complex character and is notable mainly for his malevolence and cowardice. Several times in the novel, the Virginian coolly humiliates Trampas and forces him to back down, feeding his resentment.

Judge Henry

Judge Henry is a kindly, generous, wealthy ranch owner who is mainly notable as the employer and patron of the Virginian and as the narrator’s host at his Sunk Creek ranch. He comes to realize how valuable the Virginian is as an employee and quickly promotes him to foreman of the ranch, even going into partnership with him at the end of the novel.

Mrs. Henry

Mrs. Henry, like her husband, is kind and generous, and supports the Virginian and Molly. She helps the Virginian in various practical matters, including assisting in his education and helping him to select a suitable ring for Molly.

Uncle Hughey

Uncle Hughey is a man of around fifty who lives in the neighborhood of Bear Creek. According to the Virginian, he is notable for his romantic affairs, and he brings home a bride (apparently after many attempts) at the beginning of the novel.

Steve

Steve first appears as a friend of the Virginian in Medicine Bow. The two men later part company when Steve takes up cattle rustling. Steve is eventually hanged by a posse which includes the Virginian, facing his death with composure and dignity.

Mr. Taylor

Mr. Taylor is one of the leading citizens in the small community of Bear Creek. He is fond...

(This entire section contains 1206 words.)

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of gossip and is also instrumental in such activities as founding the school, where his son is the star pupil.

Mrs. Taylor

Mr. Taylor’s wife is Molly’s closest friend in Bear Creek, as well as her nearest neighbor. She is generous and loyal, and becomes angry with Molly when she feels her friend is treating the Virginian unkindly.

Sam Bannett

Almost all we learn of Sam Bannett is that he loves Molly and is unsuccessful in his wooing. The narrator suggests that he is too timid and does not pursue her with enough vigor and determination. At the end of the book, he is married to a wealthy heiress.

Honey Wiggin

Honey Wiggin is one of the more loquacious and sociable cowboys in Bear Creek. He loves talking before an audience and initiates gossip about Molly. However, he is without malice and is one of the Virginian's closer friends, who comes to his wedding.

James Westfall

James Westfall is a former cowboy who has now settled down to a domestic life in Bear Creek with his wife and two young children. He is slightly embarrassed by his altered status when he encounters the other cowboys but seems content and happy in his new role.

Elizabeth Westfall

Elizabeth Westfall, wife of James, is a strong character who reduces the cowboys who used to work with her husband to sheepish politeness. Although she is a minor character, she exerts a similar civilizing influence to that of Molly Wood, turning Westfall from a rough cowboy into a devoted family man.

Lin McLean

Lin McLean is a young cowboy whose name has been linked with Molly Wood’s, though he does not seem to have enjoyed much success with her. He is irresponsible and high-spirited, joining with the Virginian in his drunken prank of switching the children’s clothes at the barbecue. He later marries and settles down, much like the Virginian.

Scipio

Scipio is a talkative and genial character whom the narrator encounters on a stagecoach and who is subsequently hired as a cook by the Virginian, who recognizes him from Colonel Cyrus Jones’s eating palace in Omaha. Despite his loquacity, he is a shrewd judge of character and immediately appreciates the qualities of the Virginian. The two become close, as the Virginian respects Scipio and confides in him to some extent.

Shorty

Shorty, like Scipio, is initially a fellow passenger of the narrator’s. He later takes to a life of crime as a cattle rustler and associate of Trampas. Before this, he works on Judge Henry’s ranch, where he is not particularly good at his job and comes close to dismissal. However, the Virginian appreciates his kindness to animals.

Schoffner

Schoffner is the cook for the party of ranch hands the Virginian brings back to Sunk Creek from the Chicago market. He threatens to cause trouble, and the Virginian kicks him off the train.

Dr. Alexander MacBride

The Reverend Dr. MacBride is an overbearing and self-righteous clergyman who is determined to bring the word of God to Sunk Creek. He tends to dominate conversation and to cast a pall over proceedings with his moral pronouncements. The heaviness of his manner leads to his acquiring the nickname “Jumbo.” The Virginian makes a fool of him by pretending to undergo a spiritual crisis and waking him up throughout the night to talk about sin.

Balaam

Balaam is a ranch owner who trades horses with Judge Henry. He is a cruel man who beats his horses so savagely that his violence has become proverbial, though the judge seems not to be aware of this.

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