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Written by Callie Labrador
Matt is the main character in the novel and over a relatively short period of time transforms from an understandably frightened boy into the man of the house able to survive alone. He is loyal to his family and puts them first even when it would be more beneficial for him not to do so, for example, by choosing to wait out the winter for his family to arrive rather than leaving with the Indians. He is resourceful in a way that surprises himself and is also a planner, constantly watching how the Indians make things that he might make for the family cabin, such as bowls and his baby sister's crib.
When Matt first begins his adventure he holds the same views of the Indians as the white settlers do - that their new and modern ways are better and that their education is superior. Matt truly believes he is teaching Attean but soon realizes it is actually the other way around. The ways of the settlers work better than the ways of the Indians in a town setting but the traditional ways are definitely better in the wilderness; because he is experiencing this for himself and not merely hearing it from others Matt is able to have a far more open mind and is more receptive to learning from the Indians than he otherwise might have been. His experiences allow him to become a more open person.
Matt is happy in his own company and extremely self-reliant but also newly appreciative of his sister whom he had previously found annoying, and is extremely happy to see his family again. He is also happy that their arrival validated his decision to stay at the cabin and not travel west with the Indians as he knows he has made his family very proud and has greatly strengthened their trust in him.
Attean is an Indian boy around the same age as Matt. He is inscrutable and his eyes are so dark that it is impossible to read any emotion in them. Matt believes Attean to be his student but Attean knows it is the other way around and that he needs to teach this unskilled white boy how to survive in the wilderness. Attean is extremely good at hunting and tracking and like all Indians hunts for food not sport. He is enormously respectful of his heritage and the ways of the tribes, for example leaving the area already marked by the sign of the turtle tribe. He has a close bond with his grandparents and wants to make them proud. He was raised by them after his parents were killed by white men which is why he views white men with contempt and initially wants nothing to do with Matt. He comes to like and respect his new friend enormously and looks upon him as a brother.
Ben is a renegade, a wandering stranger who, seeing Matt was alone, takes advantage of his polite hospitality. Matt offers Ben food but Ben also contrives to fall asleep after their meal, so that Matt is obliged to give him a place to sleep overnight. He repays this generosity by stealing Matt's rifle. Ben is a great storyteller and he is always the hero of every story he tells, exaggerating his daring and bravery with each telling.
Saknis is Attean's grandfather and also the leader of the tribe. Although he does not like the white men settling on Indian land e is also pragmatic and knows that on order to negotiate with them the younger generation must learn their ways. He wants Mayt to teach Attean how to read so that Attean is able to understand any words or agreements the white men put in front of him. Saknis is a proud and noble leader who is generous and good hearted, helping Matt back to health after his encounter with the bees nest, despite his reservations about getting involved with white men.
Matt's father expects a great deal from his son but has also given him the resilience and self-confidence to achieve what his father has asked of him. He is a typical settler in that he does not believe in fraternizing with the Indians and views them more as savages than as people to live alongside; his reaction on seeing how many of the things Matt has made for the cabin clearly utilized Indian techniques is one of suspicion and he is confused by Matt's seeming to be influenced by their culture. His father is impressed and proud by what Matt has accomplished on his own and is now more inclined to treat him as a fellow man rather than the young boy he had been when his father left to collect the rest of the family.
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