Richard’s mother, who is loving but oppressive. Because she is rearing Richard by herself, she encourages him to play with other boys and inadvertently causes him to feel abandoned. Her insistence that Richard learn God’s will by submitting is largely responsible for Richard’s poor self-image. His nagging feeling that vanity is mixed up in his piety also is a product of his mother’s influence. Because Richard is torn between feelings of love and hatred for her, she is, for the most part, ineffective as a mother.
Willard Rivenburg, the school’s leading athlete and the idol of the younger boys. Because of his advanced physical maturity, he looks out of place and even slightly irreverent when participating in the Mass with the rest of the boys. Willard’s muscularity makes Richard uneasy about his own lack of physical development. Richard is also hurt by the fact that this “superhuman” young man is unimpressed by his defense of Hobe Gillum in church.
Father Fish, Richard’s favorite teacher. He often invites Richard over to his cottage for cookies and cocoa. Richard trusts the man and takes his advice because of his wisdom and kindness. Acting almost as a surrogate father, Father Fish relieves much of Richard’s guilt.
Claude Gray, a fanatically religious and somewhat insolent boy. His “girlish” voice and demonstrative piety arouse feelings of pity and guilt in Richard, who struggles with the question of Claude’s sincerity when he lays violets at the feet of the Virgin. Richard’s final impression of Claude is that of an impudent, effeminate boy who fingers his beads in church.
Hobe Gillum and
Jimmy Toole, Richard’s mischievous companions, both twelve years old. They enjoy drawing attention to themselves by violating the rules, as Hobe does by cussing in church. Of the two boys, Hobe has the more volatile nature; it emerges in the beginning of the novel when he threatens the boy who woke him by throwing a shoe. These rascals tend to bring out the worst in Richard. To keep from being ostracized by them, Richard joins them in beating the snake and is caught up in their sadistic glee.
George Fitzgerald and
Lee Allen, prefects destined to become priests. Being the oldest boys, they are placed in positions of authority, and they carry out their duties with a grave demeanor and a sense of the solemnity of the occasion. They are also strict disciplinarians who threaten to report Hobe Gillum for swearing in church. Richard’s fear of these boys compels him to hide from them when he sneaks out of the service. Ironically, Lee and George are just as worried about the consequences of breaking the rules as are the younger boys.