The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although Brian O’Connal is, at times, too mature for his age, he is usually depicted quite realistically. The boy is not only sensitive but also determined and tenacious. Furthermore, his quest is, if somewhat too programatically controlled by the author, a moving account of a boy’s gradual steps toward maturity and insight. W. O. Mitchell has carefully linked the boy’s perception to the dimensions of the small prairie town in which he lives. By making the boy learn about his world through the local people, the typical animals, and the natural forces of the prairies, the author is capable of gradually moving the boy’s eyes and understanding from the immediate events in the town to the distant horizon, thereby giving a convincing portrayal of growth and maturation.

Many of the novel’s other characters are not as successfully drawn. Mrs. Abercrombie is an all-too-extreme and all-too-recognizable hypocrite. Mr. Powelly, too, is a zealot bordering on caricature. Regrettably, even the Ben family borders on a stereotype. The father is the classic ne’er-do-well of the small town, and young Ben functions much too obviously as an alter ego for Brian. At times, then, the characters are used didactically, not naturally: The writer clearly wants to suggest a moral rather than tell a tale. Since the book is, in part, a children’s story focusing on the sensibility of a young boy under the age of twelve, the exaggeration may be forgiven. Unfortunately, the stereotypical presentation of many of the characters cannot be completely forgotten by the mature reader, and the novel therefore suffers slightly.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Brian Sean MacMurray O’Connal

Brian Sean MacMurray O’Connal, who ages from four to eleven during the course of the story. A slight, lean, dark “black Scotch” boy, Brian is imaginative and always inquisitive about the rhythms of nature that he witnesses on the sweeping, beckoning, and now drought-ridden Saskatchewan prairie where he lives. By the age of eleven, Brian has experienced the deaths both of cherished pets and of beloved members of his close family, making him mature beyond his years. Always sensitive to the relentless patterns of birth and death around him, Brian perceives aspects of life about which his contemporaries Forbsie Hoffman and Artie Sherry comprehend little. Brian’s sturdy independence makes his mother heartsick, but his independence and his extraordinary visionary capacity protect him somewhat from the harsh emotional blows he is dealt so early.

Gerald O’Connal

Gerald O’Connal, Maggie’s large, auburn-haired husband, Brian and Bobby’s father, and the town druggist. A quiet, serious man, as befits his respectable position in the town, Gerald is also gentle and sensitive. It is Gerald who solves the conflict between Brian and his grandmother over Brian’s puppy Jappy, who shares Brian’s wonder and respects his sorrow over the birth and death of a baby pigeon, who quietly finances his impoverished brother Sean’s irrigation project, and who is his wife’s model of the kind of person she wants their sons to be. Always concerned for others, he downplays persistent signs of his own ill health and dies suddenly at the age of forty-three of gall bladder disease.

Maggie MacMurray O’Connal

Maggie MacMurray O’Connal, a small, dark, pretty, and intense woman. She loves and admires her husband and cares fiercely about her sons, instilling in them a desire to be strong, worthy, and successful. Ordinarily a person who does not express her emotions, she...

(The entire section is 808 words.)