The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Glenway Wescott

First published: 1940

Genre: Novel

Locale: Chancellot, a town in France

Plot: Symbolic realism

Time: An afternoon in May, 1929

Alexandra (Alex) Henry, a young, unmarried American woman who acts as hostess for the Irish Cullen family and for the novel's narrator, an American from the Midwest. She is the impressionable mind that Alwyn Tower, the narrator, most worries will be influenced by the story of disappointed love that the Cullens enact. The level-headed Alex seems less vulnerable than Alwyn fears and immune to his “grandiose theories.” She is far more practical and skeptical than Alwyn and less prone to concoct stories with morals. She is also less wary of her own judgments than the self-critical Alwyn. She believes that the afternoon's events have convinced her not to marry, but she weds Alwyn's brother after she returns to the United States.

Madeleine Cullen, the owner of Lucy, the “pilgrim hawk,” whomeans“alltheworldtoher.”ThebirdistoMrs.Cullen what writing is to Alex, “an image of amorous desire.” On a more literal level, her love for the bird suggests her lack of satisfaction with her husband, with his inability to satisfy her sexual and her aesthetic needs. He is too literal and down to earth to satisfy her fanciful nature.

Larry Cullen, Madeleine's husband, an Irish aristocrat who dislikes the hawk on which his wife dotes. He tries to free the creature but finds that he cannot escape either its wild clutches or his wife's obsession with it. He is a realist who cannot share his wife's devotion to this symbolic creature. He constantly advises her not to generalize so much about experience when their own is so limited. She treats him rather like a pet, and he regards her with a “captivated but uncomfortable look.”

Alwyn Tower, an American novelist from the Midwest who is fascinated with the Cullens. He is an aspiring literary artist who sees in the couple a metaphor for the desire to transform nature and the environment into parables of human existence. As he points out, “humanity is histrionic, and must prepare and practice every stroke of passion; so half our life is a vague and stormy make-believe.” For both the narrator and Mrs. Cullen, the hawk seems to symbolize a freedom for which they yearn, unchecked by societal restraints or the limits of their own imaginations. The self-conscious narrator compares his failures to that of a bird, “too proud and vexed to fly again.” He sees the hawk as an emblem of the artist, who ought to be wild but who accepts the hospitality of hosts, who honor and support him but who simultaneously subvert his independence.

Lucy, Mrs. Cullen's hawk, who attends her mistress patiently and tamely but stands for the fierce force that Mrs. Cullen would like to unleash. Lucy fascinates Alwyn because she symbolizes pure instinct, unhindered by conscience or scruple. Mrs. Cullen admires the single-mindedness of falcons, their “painful greed,” which she imitates with her own voice. She loves the bird precisely because it is not human and has needs that human beings can never feel.

Categories: Characters