The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Robert Ross, the protagonist, a young man of nineteen, undergoes the most harrowing initiation into adulthood imaginable. He learns that men, stripped of civilization’s veneer, are capable of utter brutality. His faith in senior officers, in the ideals of glory and heroism and patriotism, is eroded and lost. He learns that real spiritual and physical love, once experienced, brings with it an enduring sense of the wonder of life itself.

Ross’s climactic actions, in trying simply to save the lives of the two groups of horses from the insanity of war, affirm his essential humanity. He feels compassion; he acts to save others; he accepts the consequences. According to his field nurse and Juliet, in spite of tremendous pain and loss, he insists on the ultimate significance of life itself, refusing easy ways to death until it takes him. Robert Ross has become a man, an extraordinary one, in his one year at war.

Timothy Findley is also gifted in creating minor characters who linger in the reader’s mind. Who can forget Rodwell, the talented illustrator of children’s books, who collects the wounded animals of the war and tries to nurse them back to health? Rodwell’s sketchbook—full of drawings of animals and one human, Ross—survives Rodwell’s own suicide to teach Ross a lesson. In addition, there is the great affirmation of Rodwell’s farewell letter to his daughter: that nothing ever really dies. Taffler, Levitt, Harris, Devlin—all...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Robert Ross

Robert Ross, a second lieutenant in the Canadian Field Artillery during 1916 and 1917. As a boy, he feels somewhat distanced from his parents; consequently, he devotes himself to his congenitally deformed sister, developing very early in his life the desperate conviction that self-esteem must be measured by very personal, rather than conventionally public, standards. Inspired by Tom Longboat, an Indian marathon runner, he imposes a strict training regimen on himself, believing that his achievements in such an elemental sport will stand as a testament to his love for his sister. It is Ross’s belief in his personal standards that leads to his attempts to save a group of war horses, actions that result in his disfigurement and ultimately his death.

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Ross

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Ross, Robert’s parents. Tom Ross is well-meaning, but he lacks the self-assurance to rally his family at times of emotional crisis. Robert’s mother becomes a cynical alcoholic after her daughter Rowena is born with hydrocephalis. She views Robert’s enlistment with bitter foreboding and, at one point while he is overseas, furiously leaves church in the middle of the service, disgusted by the generally accepted notion that religious fervor and patriotic zeal are compatible.

Lady Barbara d’Orsey

Lady Barbara d’Orsey, who is as physically beautiful as she is emotionally stunted. She...

(The entire section is 489 words.)