Who does the narrator interview in The Wars by Timothy Findley and how do they shape our view of Robert?

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Robert Ross is the protagonist of The Wars by Terry Findley, though his story is told by a first-person narrator who has purposed to piece together (re-create) Robert’s story after the fact. He does this by gathering various documents, photographs, memories, diaries, transcripts, and letters as well as by talking to (interviewing) people who knew Robert at different times in his life.

Most characters are not interviewed [interview: a conversation with or questioning of a person for formal purposes (Collins Dictionary)]. Most characters contribute to the narrator's investigation into Ross's life indirectly through diary entries or letters etc. One character who was directly interviewed is Rodwell.

Rodwell is the only other soldier, besides Ross, who cares for and respects animals; he tends to every injured animal he finds, including rabbits. Of course this trait reminds Robert of his beloved sister, Rowena, who adored her pet rabbits, and it endears Rodwell to Robert.

Each one of these characters adds something new to our (the readers’) understanding of what moves and motivates Robert both in his life as a soldier and in the outrageous—some might say insane-- act we read about in the prologue. Through them we also experience the disintegration others experience as the war rages. They are generally flat characters who serve the story only through their connection to Robert. Some of the major contributors to the narrator’s information-gathering are below.

The aristocratic Lady Barbara d’Orsey has a brief (several months) affair with Robert. Despite her own rather calloused approach to taking and leaving her lovers, Robert learns at least a semblance of normal sexual behavior. Too often in this novel Robert is exposed to perversions or at least atypical forms of physical/sexual love. Later, however, she will flaunt her new lovers in front of the wounded Robert who would rather die than be kept alive.

Juliet d’Orsey is Barbara’s younger sister, and though she is only twelve years old, she falls in love with Robert when he comes to stay at her home, St. Aubyn’s. She is with Robert then, and she is also with him as he dies. In fact, she is the one who writes the inscription for Robert’s tombstone.

Margaret Elizabeth Ross is Robert’s mother. Through her we learn not only about Robert’s early, pre-war life but also about the effects of death and war on someone other than Robert. Margaret is an alcoholic who mistreats her son, yet she deliberately exposes herself to all manner of inclement weather while he is away as a kind of solidarity for what her son is experiencing. She loses both her children, and at the funeral she sits outside on the steps rather than going inside.

Mrs. Ross adjusted her veil but did not put the flask away.... 'Why is this happening to us…? What does it mean--to kill your children? Kill them and then go in there and sing about it! What does that mean?' She wept--but angrily.

In some ways, she speaks for all of us as we follow her son's short life as a soldier.

Eugene Taffler is the epitome of a war hero who impresses his fellow soldiers by teaching them how to break bottles by throwing stones at them. Ross’s admiration and hero worship are extinguished and replaced with violent anger when he sees Taffler having rough sex with another man at a brothel. Later, Taffler loses both his arms in battle and tries unsuccessfully to kill himself.

The author uses each of these characters, and many more, to help reveal information, feelings, and experiences about Robert to his readers. Together they serve to draw a picture of a troubled, guilt-ridden, struggling young man over the course of his life. 

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In The Wars by Timothy Findley, how do I identify and provide a brief background of the people interviewed by the narrator, and how do these people influence the reader's impressions of Robert?

Each of us is knowable, in part, through our individual interactions with others. If someone were interested in characterizing us in a more complete way, he might gather all of those interactions to provide a comprehensive view of what we do and how we think. More importantly, these interactions with others would offer insight into our motivations and passions. This is what Terry Findley does in his 1977 novel The Wars.

Robert Ross is a tragic hero, and Findley chooses to reveal Robert’s tragic journey through the relationships and interactions with other people in his life. Many of them are connected to the war, as most of the story is set during one year of Robert’s life as a soldier in World War I, roughly 1915 to 1916. At the least, all of them are impacted by the war in some way.

In one sense, documenting these incidents and revelations is quite tricky, because they are often recounted and recorded in unconventional ways, such as in letters, diary entries, or interviews. In another sense, though, they are easy to document: every time Robert has an interaction with someone, we (readers) learn something more about him. Everything counts because everything reveals.

For example, we know that Robert feels an affinity with Rodwell because of Rodwell’s love and care for animals. Whatever happens to Rodwell will necessarily have an impact on Robert and how he reacts to things from then on.

Rodwell wandered into No Man's Land and put a bullet through his ears. On Sunday, Robert sat on his bed in the old hotel at Bailleul and read what Rodwell had written. 

To my daughter, Laurine;
Love your mother. 
Make your prayers against despair. 
I am alive in everything I touch. Touch these pages and you have me in your fingertips. We survive in one another. Everything lives forever. Believe it. Nothing dies. 
I am your father always.

What Rodwell says, even after he is gone, becomes part of who Robert is and how he reacts to things.

Another example of this kind of impact is demonstrated through the incident with the German soldier in the crater. Robert and some of his men are lying in the freezing water at the bottom of a crater for hours, pretending they are dead. Robert assumes no one is still watching them, but he is wrong. A German soldier is there and signals to Robert that his men will be allowed to leave; unfortunately, Robert overreacts to a harmless gesture and kills the man. The unarmed soldier had a rifle nearby, but he had been reaching for binoculars to identify a bird. From this point on, Robert remembers this incident with horror every time he hears a chirping bird.

Even the things Robert does on his own are usually connected to someone else and create some new information to add to Findley’s characterization of Robert and his tragic life. When things get very bad, Robert tries to protect his beloved sister from the ugliness of this world.

Robert sat on the mutilated mattress and opened his kit bag. Everything was there--including the picture of Rowena. Robert burned it in the middle of the floor. This was not an act of anger--but an act of charity.

Each of the interactions Robert has reveals more information about him; each bit of information the narrator gathers explains why Robert commits such a crazy act as freeing the horses from the train. If the theme of the novel is the inhumanity of man, every interaction will also either demonstrate this theme or offer a kind of hope or relief from that inhumanity. 

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