The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The British army is a central feature of the book and the main influence on the lives of its characters. In his early years, Charlie accepts army discipline gratefully as a means of freezing the pain of his emotional deprivation—the deaths of his best friend and his mother, and ostracism by his father. He is a good soldier, and in later life, the army continues to represent everything he holds dear. He is never tired of reliving his own past glories and is able to relive them yet again through his son.

Charlie’s life is deeply rooted in his social class and in the mining village of his birth. His army rank as noncommissioned officer and his civilian work as a postman keep him well within the parameters of his social origins.

The forces that shape William’s development are more complex. As a child, he accepts his father’s guidance. He enjoys serious study, but when he asks why he has to learn French, Charlie’s reply, “So that you can become a gentleman,” surprises and puzzles him. Joining the army and becoming “a gentleman” are not his own aspirations but have been decided for him by his father.

As an officer, he is treated at first with some condescension by his fellow officers, most of whom have middle-or upper-class backgrounds, but he is strong-minded enough to cope with their antagonism. His father has instilled in him the soldier’s habit of not asking questions about motive but concentrating on the practical tasks in hand. He approaches his relationship with Georgina similarly, dealing with her in a tactical way rather than trying to understand her deeper feelings. This attitude is most clearly imaged in a brilliantly described confrontation between them in which they fantasize about a full-scale war, inventing increasingly extravagant maneuvers against each other until, in an assault of mounting sexual...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Colonel William Scorton

Colonel William Scorton, the protagonist, a gunner during World War II. A straight-backed career soldier, he is rugged, tall, and authoritative. He is also very self-disciplined and organized, but rather pessimistic and solitary. He was molded into the image of the perfect soldier by a father who never showed him the slightest affection. The military order and discipline of his twenty-five years in the army have carried over into his civilian life, where he attempts to run his marriage and his career as if he were still in the army. Eventually, he realizes that he was never really cut out to be a soldier. Despite the lack of emotion shown to him during his childhood and the blandness of his military career, he is a passionate man who feels things deeply and who yearns for a true, loving relationship. At first glance, he falls head over heels in love with Georgina, but he never really understands that their marriage is doomed because they both are completely unable to express their emotions. Although he truly loves his wife, their marriage leaves them incomplete and yearning for something that neither of them has the emotional experience to comprehend. William’s passions rise as he realizes that his wife is having an affair, causing their marriage to become a war zone and climaxing in an intensely emotional scene that results in William’s suicide attempt. Rescued once again by his wartime friend Oxton, William finally realizes that there is nothing left of his marriage to save. He returns home to reestablish his relationship with his father and to sort out his thoughts and emotions before beginning his new career as a schoolteacher.

Sergeant Charlie Scorton

Sergeant Charlie Scorton, the widower of the title and William’s father. Every inch the soldier, Charlie is tall, strong, and stubborn, and he has never exhibited any weakness during his eighty-three years. After watching his...

(The entire section is 799 words.)