The Way of All Flesh By Samuel Butler Character Analysis Ernest Pontifex

The author delays the entrance of the main character until the eighteenth chapter to emphasize the importance of Ernest's forebears on his development. The obstacles presented by his heredity and upbringing become inextricably mixed with his own open, gentle, and trusting nature. The circumstances of Ernest's childhood are such, moreover, that his likeable qualities often work to his detriment. His father, whose own weak will was broken early in life, brings to bear all possible severity in his efforts to reduce Ernest to a likeness of himself. Time and again the reader may despair of Ernest's possibilities of winning back his birthright, but the author provides both hope for his reader and help for his hero by allowing Ernest to have prudently helpful godparents and timely good fortune.

Ernest's ultimate liberation and emergence as a determinedly independent individual may, perhaps, tax the reader's powers of acceptance. Yet, however awkwardly, Ernest meets the test of coming to terms with his own best inherited characteristics in a way which is fitting to a person in his peculiar circumstances. Even though he needs and receives more good fortune than Butler ever needed or received in his own life, Ernest clearly stands for the author's realistic and viable faith in life processes. In other words, Ernest may in many ways anticipate the modern existential anti-hero in the novel, but he also emerges as the familiar hero, in the traditional sense of having triumphed over adversity to achieve a desirable goal.

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