From the mysterious crying man, to the hermit witch, to the underqualified and overenthusiastic dentist, deWitt litters a multitude of peculiar characters throughout his story, all very different from each other, most without personal lore or history, yet each a nicely framed cameo of eccentricity. These characters progress the story and then disappear– the sort of encounters that work so well in a road adventure. Yet for the most part they are comically rehashed archetypes– the only role missing from this quintessential western cast is the ill-ambitioned preacher.
But then, all this feels purposeful, as if the characters exist in part to be recognized in a hundred other stories with a hundred different faces– how many mad prospectors has the reader/viewer encountered in their time?
The result of this is a pervasive loneliness that seems to follow Eli and Charlie Sisters wherever they go. Like a rolling stone, and all that. This removed lifestyle adds an interesting side to Eli in particular, someone who obviously has a desire to know, to like, people. He tries, mostly in vain, to connect with the people he encounters, but is continually drawn away by his loyalty to his caustic, violent brother. Despite his comic, sometimes absurd, mannerisms and thought patterns, Eli, within the world he inhabits, has a realism about his personality that makes him a greatly enjoyable character to follow. His actions feel grounded in real, however much dampened, emotions. Throughout the story we see him express a great capacity for self-awareness, as of one who has had much time to consider the happenings of their own mind. Yet, except for his moments of knowing insight regarding his brother Charlie, Eli Sisters seems to lack the social understanding expected of a man his age, continually misreading the intentions and desires of strangers, especially of women.
Over the course of the novel, the readers understanding of Eli develops in one particularly interesting way: for the large duration of the story, he seems to be a sensible, if not sentimental, man who inhabits a world lacking in both. We see it often in his reactions to violence, in the continuously murderous habits of Charlie– Eli is upset by the loss of life, wishes it were not so, yet at the same time understands it must be done– he is in the business of it, after all. But when the violence begins to intensify, and Eli begins to partake in a greater amount of it, he admits to a certain animal satisfaction, a blindness, that he feels. This leaves us, the readers, wondering about his stability, if he is perhaps more disposed towards the heartless tenancies of his brother, so often admonished, then he appears.
I came across this blog post discussing different character chemistry archetypes. Character archetypes themselves are familiar, and here, the relationships between them are sectioned up in a way that is succinct and if nothing else, interesting. Characters, and the relationships between them, often cross into different archetype categories, but this list is a simple starting point for examining the push-and-pull driving different interactions. In their own capacity, I would suggest Eli and Charlie Sisters as the ‘noble and rouge’ archetype– however, as previously mentioned, this is possibly less true than it seems.