Barclay, the narrator of the story, is a sensible, considerate character. Barclay is an incomer to the island, and partly because of this, is not very socially active –
very few friends call. I’m a stranger in the island. Barclay does not search for sympathy and is not particularly concerned with socializing:
I don’t find talk necessary; my writing comes before everything.
Barclay is comforted by his daily routine, which he follows meticulously. His routine is very simple, mainly consisting of writing in the morning, a walk or shopping in the afternoon and reading or listening to the wireless in the evening. Like some of Brown’s other characters, Barclay finds clarity within the
easy regular rhythm of life.
Barclay is Catholic. His religion is very important to him and it furthers his separation from the predominantly Protestant community (Barclay travels 15 miles to Kirkwall to attend mass). Barclay’s religion instills a sense of charity within him, and he hopes that his books
can bring solace and happiness to a few people. Barclay is an empathetic character, often shown through his religion. In the days leading up to Captain Steven’s death, Barclay prayed for the salvation of Captain Steven.
After fantasizing about Miriam (
a scheme of seduction arranged itself in my mind), Barclay feels guilty. Though Barclay acknowledges that this attraction was
quite involuntarily, he cannot escape his feelings of guilt. This guilt may stem from his religious faith - Barclay feels that he betrayed Miriam with his
At the beginning of the story, Captain Stevens appears to be a mild-mannered man who politely asks Barclay to do him a favour.
As Captain Stevens drinks more alcohol, his character changes, usually for the worse. He can be untrustworthy (Stevens lies to try to obtain more alcohol) and offensive (Stevens refers to Miriam as a
bitch and Barclay a
pansy). In his desperation for alcohol, Stevens can also be vindictive and calculated, bitterly telling Barclay:
I find you an unsatisfactory tenant. Now get out. Miriam contests that, when Stevens is unkind to Barclay, it is
not the poor captain at all who is speaking but
Despite his obvious flaws, we still feel a considerable amount of sympathy for Captain Stevens when we learn that he has suffered the heartbreaking loss of both his wife his son. This left Captain Stevens devastated, and this was when he turned to alcohol.
Stony and Robert hugely admire Captain Stevens. Stony tells of Stevens’ courage onboard ships, while describing him as being
hard and direct. He praises Stevens’ leadership skills, saying that
he knew how to handle people and claimed
he’s the decentest skipper ever I sailed with. Strong, but very fair in his dealings.
Despite her religious, straight-laced lifestyle, Miriam is a formidable character. She worships with the Salvation Army and her religious outlook provides the framework to her life. That framework is slightly different to the one that Barclay’s religion provides, and there appears to be some uneasiness over their slight religious divide:
'It must be lonely for you’, said Miriam. ‘You should come to our Joy Hour some Thursday evening. There’s choruses and readings from the Good Book, and O, everybody’s so happy!’ Her eyes drifted uneasily over the crucifix and the Virgin. I said nothing.
Miriam is an exceptionally good, loyal friend to Captain Stevens. Even in his intoxicated state, Captain Stevens can recognize this, begging Miriam
don’t leave me as he lies in bed. Despite her loyalty, Miriam’s purity and devotion to Religious duties can make her appear almost frosty in her communication:
Miriam turned towards the two drunk men in the fireplace. ‘You’ll be pleased to know’, she said, ‘that you’ve killed Captain Stevens.’ Robert Jansen began to cry. To me she said coldly, ‘get Dr. Wilson’.
Overall, Miriam is a strong character with a robust sense of moral duty that is central to the story.