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Written by Claire Cornwall
Maritole is the protagonist and narrator of the novel. She has many roles in life; wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter and good neighbor. Throughout the novel she is focused on trying to keep her family together and to maintain unity in her marriage. She also struggles in trying to maintain her own identity when she has so many roles to fill for those around her. Maritole's time on the trail is filled with yearning for the old life she misses, and she longs to be back in North Carolina, in her grandmother's home in which she and her husband Knobowtee lived.
Knobowtee is Maritole's husband who is filled with anger over Indian Removal, which leaves him feeling very confused. His narratives give great insight into his anger at treaties, and the written word, and at other Cherokee particularly those from Georgia whom he believes to be the cause of the removal. Knobowtee's loss of power and frustrating helplessness stems from the fact that he is no longer able to farm the land, a practice that gave him his identity as a man; no longer being able to do so has greatly threatened his own feelings of masculinity. His response to these feelings is violence, hatred and a cessation in effort in his marriage ultimately causing separation from Maritole.
Sergeant Williams is one of the soldiers hired to guide the Cherokee Indians across the Trail of Tears. Unlike the majority of soldiers in the book who are largely cruel and unjust in their dealings with the Indians, Williams is sympathetic and understanding, always seeing the Cherokee as a group of individuals rather than a mass. He is first described as "the man with the blue eyes", he is described more personally and by name the closer he and Maritole become. He provides her with food and clothing and they become very familiar with each other which angers Knobowtee and leads to Maritole's being ostracized. Eventually this results in Sergeant Williams losing his job.
Reverend Bushyhead is a genuine historical figure, real name Reverend Jesse Bushyhead. According to "The Cherokee Encyclopedia", he attended Reverend Evan Jones' Vally River Mission School in North Carolina, and was ordained a Baptist minister in 1830. Reverend Bushyhead travels the trail with his wife in the novel, and she gives birth to their daughter, Eliza, along the trail. Bushyhead is an important figure in trying to upkeep morale and he preaches hope along to the Cherokee, fighting for their protection and for better treatment.
Maritole's father travels the trail with his wife, children and extended family. He remains nameless in the novel and he represents hope for the Cherokee in the future. He yearns for life as it used to be, dedicated to the old customs, food and land, but despite his disquiet about the current situation he tries hard to bring calm and peace to his family and neighbors along the trail. He has a great understanding of the importance of family and their unity is more important to him than the fact their old life has been taken from them.
Luthy is Maritole's brother-in-law, married to her brother Tanner. She has two sons, Mark and Ephum, and her role in the novel is to represent motherhood and women's loss of power after their traditional matriarchal role in society was taken away. Luthy weakens gradually throughout the novel and is frequently overcome by bouts of delirium.
Tanner is Maritole's brother and is a devoted family man who tries hard to protect his family as best he can along the trail. Although they are his priority, Tanner joins the rest of the Cherokee men during the removal who were frustrated at the government, their loss of land and the perceived weakening of their masculinity. He is protective of his sister which leads naturally to conflict with Knobowtee who is violent towards her as a manifestation of his bitterness and anger.
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