The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Alistair Cawdor is a modern-day Everyman, a man caught between past and present, between two cultures, between being and nonbeing. Having nothing that holds him in this world but pain and suffering, he chooses suicide. He does not have pleasant memories or close relationships, as does MacDonnell, who shares a past with Naibusi. The younger people—Saliba, Dalwood, Benoni—share the future and are resilient and content with their lives in a present world in which they are only beginning to find a place. Representatives of the past in the older people—Metusela, Dipapa, MacDonnell, and Naibusi—are shown as marking kinds of values in the community, values accepted or rejected by the younger people. Osana as an interpreter is between both worlds, and his mastery of the language of whites and natives is a symbolic representation of his power.

The whites represent official order brought to the world of the natives. MacDonnell lives apart from the native groups and has been so long separate from the world of the whites that he no longer fits in either world. The officers who come to the island—Cawdor and Dalwood—stop at MacDonnell’s house before going among the natives, showing this place as a point of transition between the two worlds. Since MacDonnell shares his dwelling with natives—Naibusi and Saliba—the house and its inhabitants mark a transition of both worlds.

Naibusi is more than a mere housekeeper, however, having shared living quarters with MacDonnell since both were young. She supports Benoni to MacDonnell, who disapproves of the young man. This disapproval is felt also by Dipapa, whose youngest wife (of his thirteen wives) was reputed to have been intimate with Benoni. Naibusi has an ally in her approval of Benoni, for Saliba also likes the young man and tries to help him....

(The entire section is 744 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alistair Cawdor

Alistair Cawdor, a patrol officer in the Australian protectorate of Papua New Guinea. Called Misa Kodo in the local pidgin, Cawdor is responsible for all aspects of central administration. His official duties, however, only add to the personal turmoil that has eroded his skill in the islands’ maze of custom and responsibility. On the island of Kailuana, he becomes obsessed with an apparent cargo cult that worships extraterrestrial visitors. Considering evidence of spacecraft sightings, Cawdor finds what he considers to be his only chance for salvation: The returning aliens, it is said, will annihilate the “Dim-dims” (whites) or will transform them into islanders; either possibility appeals to Cawdor. The one possibility unbearable to him, that the apocalyptic cult is merely part of a political upheaval of an all-too-terrestrial kind, proves to be the case. With his hope for redemption dashed, Cawdor commits suicide rather than enforce the flawed and limited kinds of order that he represents officially, culturally, and personally.

Tim Dalwood

Tim Dalwood, also called Misa Dolu’udi (doh-lew-EW-dee), Cawdor’s nineteen-year-old assistant patrol officer. Although he is hindered by inexperience and ignorance of the local language, Dalwood has an innate generosity that makes him attractive to both whites and natives. He and Saliba begin an affair—necessarily exploitative and hopeless under the circumstances—that surprisingly develops into genuine friendship. His enthusiastic study of local customs includes depths and sensitivities that seem uncharacteristic until his self-descriptions are taken as seriously as other characters’ opinions of him. At that point, Dalwood emerges as a strong figure, capable of surviving the psychological upheavals of cultural...

(The entire section is 761 words.)