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Dr. Macphail is one of the passengers that get stuck on an unnamed Island on his way to Apia because of a brake out of measles epidemic. He and his wife befriend another couple, the Davidsons, who work as missionaries in the Pacific. Dr. Macphail often disagrees with their strong and pious opinions, but usually he keeps it to himself. He particularly disagrees with Mr. Davidson's treatment of fellow traveller Sadie Thomson, an alleged prostitute. Consequently, Macphail promises Sadie to go to the governor on her behalf. Even though he manages to make the governor see his point, the governor refuses to change the order he has already given. After Mr. Davidson dies, Dr. Macphail attempts to confront Miss Thomson, who, as it seems has returned to her trade. She screams at him and tells him all men are the same, they are all pigs. Dr. Macphail says nothing, because he understands.
Mrs. Macphail is wife of Dr. Macphail. She is a timid woman used to do as her husband bids her. She gets along with the Davidsons much better than her husband and she spends most of her time with Mrs. Davidson. Dr. Macphail often uses her to communicate with the Davidsons indirectly.
Mr. Davidson is a missionary from Pacific. He is extremely pious and considers it to be his life’s aim to bring everyone he encounters to the right path. One of his greatest achievements is installing a sense of sin in the natives, who in his eyes regularly broke all of the 10 commandments and lead an immoral life. When the travelers get stuck on the island due to measles epidemic, the missionary is enraged to find out that one of the occupants of the house they are renting rooms in, is a prostitute. He is determined to bring her to righteousness. By getting the governor to order Miss Thomson to leave for San Francisco, where she has to face a three year imprisonment, he manages to break the woman. From then on, he spends most of the time praying with her. The night before she is supposed to leave, the missionary commits suicide.
Mrs. Davidson is wife of Mr. Davidson, also a missionary. It is mostly through her that we learn about the work that the couple has done throughout their mission. She often praises her husband, his achievements and determination, and denounces the natives and their lifestyle. Mrs Davidson also expresses concern about her husband's health, and keeps repeating that he will wear himself out.
Miss Thomson or Sadie Thomson is a young woman, who gets stuck on the island with the Macphails and the Davidsons. She rents out a room downstairs from them. We soon learn she is a prostitute. Mr. Davidson is determined to bring her to the right path and since she does not yield at first, he manages for her to be sent to San Francisco, where, as it turns out, she has to face a three year imprisonment. After she is unable to persuade the missionary to let her go to Sydney instead of San Franciso, she breaks down and spends her days crying, reading bible, and praying with the missionary. During the night before her departure, the missionary kills himself and she returns to her old self. When Macphail confronts her about it she exclaims that all men are the same, they are all pigs.
Mr. Horn is a half-caste with native wife, so naturally someone Davidsons look down to. He is the one who rents the rooms to the passengers who got stuck on the island because of the epidemic. When Davidson learns that Sadie Thomson is a prostitute, he makes Mr. Horn forbid her to bring her customers in. Mr. Horn is also the one who leads Dr. Macphail to the missionary's dead body.
After receiving threats from Mr. Davidson, who promised to complain about him in Washington unless he would yield to his requirements, the governor orders Miss Thomson to leave on the next ship to San Francisco. He receives another visit from Dr. Macphail, who comes to plead for Sadie, but he turns him down, as he is afraid that the missionary could cause problems.
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