A Kestrel for a Knave
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"A Kestrel for a Knave" Characters Analysis

By Barry Hines

fiction | 176 pages | Published in 2010

Penguin Decades bring you the novels that helped shape modern Britain. When they were published, some were bestsellers, some were considered scandalous, and others were simply misunderstood. All represent their time and helped define their generation, while today each is considered a landmark work of storytelling. Barry Hines's A Kestrel for a Knave was published in 1968, and was made into one of the key British films of the sixties. Billy Casper is beaten by his drunken brother, ignored by his mother and failing at school. He seems destined for a hard, miserable life down the pits, but for a brief time, he finds one pleasure in life: a wild kestrel that he has raised and tamed himself.

ISBN_13:9780141958026
ISBN_10:0141958022

Estimated read time: 8 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
Billy CasperProtagonist
Mr. FarthingTeacher
JudBilly's brother
Mrs. CasperBilly's mother
KesKestrel
Mr. SugdenBilly's P.E. teacher
MacDowallHeadmaster
Mr. GryceBilly's English teacher

Role Identification

Billy Casper

Billy Casper is the main protagonist and the central character in the book "A Kestrel for a Knave." The story follows Billy's struggles and personal growth in a working-class mining town in England.

Mr. Farthing

Mr. Farthing is Billy's dedicated and empathetic teacher who recognizes his potential and tries to provide him with opportunities that transcend his challenging circumstances.

Jud

Jud is Billy's half-brother, who displays abusive behavior towards him due to their troubled family dynamics and his own frustrations.

Mrs. Casper

Mrs. Casper is Billy's neglectful and indifferent mother, who fails to provide him with the emotional support and care he desperately needs.

Kes

Kes is the eponymous kestrel that Billy finds and trains. Kes becomes a symbolic representation of freedom and escape from Billy's harsh reality.

Mr. Sugden

Mr. Sugden is Billy's physical education teacher who continuously belittles him and exacerbates his feelings of inferiority.

MacDowall

MacDowall is the strict and unsympathetic headmaster of Billy's school. He is primarily concerned with maintaining discipline and order rather than focusing on the individual needs of his students.

Mr. Gryce

Mr. Gryce is Billy's English teacher who recognizes his writing ability and encourages him to explore his talent by assigning creative writing tasks.

Character Descriptions

Billy Casper

Billy Casper is a young boy around the age of 15, living in a deprived and impoverished community. He is physically small, with mousy hair and a distinct lack of confidence. Billy often wears tattered clothes, reflecting his family's lack of resources.

Mr. Farthing

Mr. Farthing is a compassionate and understanding teacher in his late thirties. He has a kind face, thinning hair, and wears glasses. Mr. Farthing is one of the few figures in Billy's life who shows genuine concern for his well-being.

Jud

Jud is Billy's older half-brother and is feared by many in the town due to his menacing reputation. He is described as tall and strong with a rough appearance, displaying signs of anger and aggression.

Mrs. Casper

Mrs. Casper is a worn-out woman who appears much older than her actual age. She often looks disheveled and careless, showing little interest in her son's life.

Kes

Kes is a beautiful kestrel that Billy discovers and develops a deep affinity for. The bird has delicate feathers and sharp eyes, symbolizing freedom and escape from Billy's restricted environment.

Mr. Sugden

Mr. Sugden is a stern and strict physical education teacher. He is portrayed as an imposing figure, often mocking and humiliating Billy during sports activities.

MacDowall

MacDowall is an authoritative and rigid headmaster with a bald head and an intimidating presence. He prioritizes discipline and control over students' individual problems or needs.

Mr. Gryce

Mr. Gryce is a supportive and encouraging English teacher with thinning hair and a gentle demeanor. He recognizes Billy's potential and nudges him to explore his talent for writing.

Character Traits

Billy Casper

Billy Casper exhibits resilience and determination in the face of adversity. He is intelligent but lacks confidence due to the neglect and abuse he experiences at home. Billy also displays compassion and sensitivity, particularly towards animals such as Kes, whom he forms a deep bond with.

Mr. Farthing

Mr. Farthing is empathetic, patient, and understanding. He recognizes the potential in Billy despite his challenging circumstances and tries to empower him. Mr. Farthing's dedication to his students is evident through his kindness and willingness to go the extra mile.

Jud

Jud embodies aggression, bitterness, and neglect. He takes out his frustrations on his younger brother, Billy, contributing to his emotional and physical suffering.

Mrs. Casper

Mrs. Casper is indifferent, neglectful, and emotionally detached. She fails to provide the nurturing and supportive environment that Billy desperately needs to thrive.

Kes

Kes is majestic, free-spirited, and untamable. The bird symbolizes escape and freedom from the confines of Billy's bleak reality.

Mr. Sugden

Mr. Sugden is cruel, condescending, and lacks compassion towards his students, particularly Billy. He further diminishes Billy's self-esteem and reinforces feelings of worthlessness.

MacDowall

MacDowall is rigid, inflexible, and focused on maintaining discipline. He fails to acknowledge the individual struggles of students and shows little empathy.

Mr. Gryce

Mr. Gryce is nurturing, supportive, and recognizes Billy's talents. He encourages and fosters Billy's passion for writing which ultimately helps him gain confidence.

Character Background

Billy Casper

Billy comes from a broken and impoverished family. His home life is plagued by neglect and abuse, leaving him to fend for himself emotionally and physically. He is constantly belittled and mistreated, which takes a toll on his self-esteem and well-being.

Mr. Farthing

Mr. Farthing grew up in a modest background and understands the struggles that Billy faces. He believes in education as a means for growth and success. Mr. Farthing's empathy and understanding stem from his own experiences and hardships.

Jud

Jud also comes from a troubled home, which contributes to his aggressive and bitter nature. His resentment towards Billy may stem from feelings of jealousy or frustration.

Mrs. Casper

Mrs. Casper is overwhelmed by her circumstances and struggles to prioritize her responsibilities as a mother. Her personal struggles likely contribute to her emotional detachment towards Billy.

Kes

Kes represents a realm of freedom and escape that Billy yearns for amidst his harsh reality. Through the bond with Kes, Billy finds solace and a sense of purpose.

Mr. Sugden

Mr. Sugden's harsh teaching style reflects his own frustrations and the lack of empathy he has for his students. He may have experienced similar modes of discipline during his own education.

MacDowall

MacDowall's focus on discipline and order is likely influenced by his desire to maintain control while overseeing a challenging student population.

Mr. Gryce

Mr. Gryce's passion for education and nurturing students may stem from his own love for literature. He recognizes Billy's talent and understands the transformative power of creativity.

Character Arcs

Billy Casper

Billy's character arc encompasses personal growth, self-discovery, and resilience. Despite his challenging background, Billy gains confidence through his relationship with Kes and supportive figures like Mr. Farthing and Mr. Gryce. He begins to find his voice and discovers self-worth through exploring his creative talents.

Jud

Although Jud's character arc is less prominent, there are glimpses of empathy and redemption toward the end of the story. He begins to show concern for Billy's well-being, hinting at the possibility of change and personal growth.

Relationships

Billy Casper and Mr. Farthing

Mr. Farthing serves as a mentor figure for Billy, providing him with guidance, support, and opportunities to broaden his horizons. Their relationship demonstrates the impact that a caring teacher can have on a student's life.

Billy Casper and Jud

Billy's relationship with Jud is characterized by abuse and neglect. Jud's mistreatment pushes Billy to seek solace and escape through the bond he forms with Kes.

Billy Casper and Mrs. Casper

Mrs. Casper's indifference and neglect create a strained and distant relationship between her and Billy. Her absence further isolates Billy, leaving him to fend for himself emotionally and physically.

Billy Casper and Kes

The relationship between Billy and Kes is transformative and represents a source of hope and escape. Kes helps Billy develop a sense of responsibility and purpose, nurturing his emotional growth.

Billy Casper and Mr. Sugden

Mr. Sugden represents the antagonistic figure in Billy's life. His constant belittling and humiliation fuel Billy's feelings of inadequacy and intensify their strained relationship.

Billy Casper and MacDowall

Billy's relationship with MacDowall is minimal but represents the oppressive school environment that amplifies his struggles. MacDowall's lack of empathy further marginalizes Billy.

Billy Casper and Mr. Gryce

Mr. Gryce recognizes Billy's writing ability and encourages him to explore his talent. Their relationship cultivates Billy's confidence and helps him find a sense of purpose and validation.

In "A Kestrel for a Knave," the characters come from diverse backgrounds and have unique roles in shaping the protagonist's journey. The book explores themes of neglect, resilience, and the transformative power of empathy and education. Billy's relationships with both supportive and antagonistic figures impact his personal growth and provide insights into the challenging conditions of his environment. Through the development of these characters, the novel delves into societal issues and the potential for individual change and redemption.