Mary, the central character of Hieroglyphics, is a likable and strong yet sensitive character. Like other protagonists in some of Donovan’s stories, Mary is faced with challenging circumstances. These challenges build sympathy towards Mary, but her ultimate response to the main challenge she faces, her academic struggle, proves her to be a bold and courageous character.
Partly due to her struggles at school, Mary is isolated by her peers. At times, her teachers perpetuate this isolation, with Miss Niven having Mary do separate work in the corner of the class. Despite this isolation at school, Mary recognises the support of her mother, who she realises was:
too busy workin and bringin ye up’ to have any time for herself.
This observation regarding her mother’s situation is just one of many examples of mature, astute social observation from Mary. Often, she is much more aware of situations than adults give her credit for, recognising that her Maths teacher was looking her up on her first day of school and that Miss Niven, ultimately, is a kind character. The Headteacher, too, fails to recognise how socially astute Mary is, leaving her sarcastically stating that:
obviously no bein able tae read makes ye deif.
Mary is also a thoughtful character. She is kind and eager to please – her Primary Seven teacher states that:
Mary is so good with the younger children,
highlighting the considerate side to Mary’s character that is present throughout the story.
In addition to Mary’s sensitive childish innocence, she is also a brave character. The conclusion to the story – with Mary placing her work:
right on tap ae the pile
on Mr Kelly’s desk - is a key incident in the story that demonstrates this quality. Despite the relentless criticism of her work, Mary recognises the value in her efforts, and is proud to show them off. Mary refuses to let Mr Kelly dictate the quality or worth of her thoughts and feelings, and when she places them proudly on her desk, we see that Mary’s bravery can help her to overcome challenging circumstances. Although Mary’s literary skills don’t progress (through no fault of hers) in a way that Mr Kelly approves of, she sees the value of her work and develops her abilities in other ways.