Characterization by Author and Neighbor

Gavin Shulman '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

McPhee continually uses two major forms of characterization. In the first he tells us both his observations of their behavior and stories he has garnered from his interviews and from background research. The second method involves offering rapid-fire characterization by all the other inhabitants of tiny Colonsay, who are quoted in a series of one-line descriptions offered without attribution to specific speakers:

"Donald Garver is a generous man. He would lend his last hundred pounds."

"He comes in like a bit of a breeze."

"He's a hail fellow."

"He has a strong, Highland sense of humor."

"He's a deep thinker, a seeker after truth and knowledge."

"Aye, he has used his education to good purpose intellectually."

"I've had some quite philosophical talks with him--I mean, right down to it."

"On the other hand, Donald Garvard can be a bastard, and when Donald Garvard's got a bucket in him, he can be a pest of hell."

"Aye, he likes a tot of whisky."

"When he is halfway over, he is great company."

After meeting Garvard in Mcphee's light, we find another side of him interesting. Whose description deserves more weight, that of the observant writer, or of the everyday neighbor?

Are the people's descriptions, riddled with contradiction and exaggeration, effective characterizations of the man?

What is Mchpee's intention in leaving the speaker's nameless?


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