A Long Long Way
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4.15 / 5

"A Long Long Way" Characters Analysis

By Sebastian Barry

fiction | 292 pages | Published in NaN

Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and gore he could not have imagined and sustains his spirit with only the words on the pages from home and the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die by his side.  Dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence, Willie returns on leave to find a world split and ravaged by forces closer to home. Despite the comfort he finds with his family, he knows he must rejoin his regiment and fight until the end. With grace and power, Sebastian Barry vividly renders Willie’s personal struggle as well as the overwhelming consequences of war.


Estimated read time: 8 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
Willie DunneProtagonist
Gretta LawlorLove interest
Christy MoranComrade and friend
Father BuckleyMentor and spiritual guide
Major StewardSuperior officer
Captain PasleyCommanding officer
Mrs. DunneMother
Mr. DunneFather
Sister MaryNurse and confidante
Corporal McBurneyFellow soldier

Role Identification

Willie Dunne is the main character and protagonist of the novel "A Long Long Way" by Sebastian Barry. He serves as a soldier in World War I and experiences the horrors of war while also grappling with his own personal struggles and identity.

Character Descriptions

Willie Dunne: Willie Dunne is a young Irish soldier who joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to fight in World War I. He is described as a shy and sensitive young man, torn between his loyalty to his family and his duty to his country. Willie is deeply affected by the atrocities of war and undergoes significant emotional and psychological changes throughout the story.

Gretta Lawlor: Gretta Lawlor is Willie's love interest and childhood friend. She represents a sense of stability and comfort for Willie amidst the chaos of war. Gretta is portrayed as a strong-willed and independent woman who supports Willie from afar and awaits his return.

Christy Moran: Christy Moran is Willie's comrade and friend in the trenches. He serves as a mentor figure to Willie, providing guidance and support during their time at war. Christy is depicted as a resilient and brave soldier who shares a deep bond with Willie.

Father Buckley: Father Buckley is a priest and spiritual guide for Willie. He offers solace and guidance to Willie during the war, helping him navigate his conflicted feelings about the violence and suffering he witnesses. Father Buckley serves as a symbol of faith and provides a moral compass for Willie.

Major Steward: Major Steward is Willie's superior officer. He is depicted as a strict and uncompromising leader who enforces discipline within the troops. Major Steward represents the rigid hierarchy and authority within the military.

Captain Pasley: Captain Pasley is the commanding officer of Willie's battalion. He is described as a compassionate and understanding leader who values the well-being of his soldiers. Captain Pasley provides a contrast to Major Steward's harsh demeanor and shows empathy towards the soldiers' experiences.

Mrs. Dunne: Mrs. Dunne is Willie's mother. She is portrayed as a loving and supportive figure, deeply concerned for her son's safety during the war. Mrs. Dunne represents the anxieties and fears of the families left behind by the soldiers.

Mr. Dunne: Mr. Dunne is Willie's father. He is depicted as a stoic and proud man, struggling to express his emotions. Mr. Dunne represents the traditional values and expectations placed on young men to serve their country.

Sister Mary: Sister Mary is a nurse who cares for the wounded soldiers. She becomes a confidante and source of comfort for Willie, listening to his fears and providing a sympathetic ear. Sister Mary represents the compassion and kindness amidst the harsh realities of war.

Corporal McBurney: Corporal McBurney is a fellow soldier who serves alongside Willie. He is portrayed as a tough and hardened soldier who has experienced the brutalities of war. Corporal McBurney befriends Willie and offers him guidance and protection.

Character Traits

Willie Dunne: Shy, sensitive, conflicted, loyal, resilient, introspective.

Gretta Lawlor: Strong-willed, independent, loyal, patient.

Christy Moran: Brave, resilient, mentor, loyal, empathetic.

Father Buckley: Wise, compassionate, spiritual, moral guide.

Major Steward: Strict, authoritative, disciplined.

Captain Pasley: Compassionate, understanding, empathetic.

Mrs. Dunne: Loving, supportive, anxious.

Mr. Dunne: Stoic, proud, traditional.

Sister Mary: Kind, compassionate, comforting.

Corporal McBurney: Tough, hardened, protective, experienced.

Character Background

Willie Dunne comes from a working-class Irish family, growing up in Dublin during the early 20th century. He joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, inspired by the patriotic fervor of the time and the desire to fight for his country. Willie's decision to enlist in the war is influenced by societal expectations and a sense of duty.

Gretta Lawlor, Willie's love interest, represents his connection to his homeland and his longing for stability amidst the chaos of war. Their childhood friendship and shared experiences provide Willie with a sense of comfort and familiarity.

Christy Moran, a seasoned soldier, becomes Willie's comrade and mentor in the trenches. He offers guidance and support to Willie, helping him navigate the horrors of war and providing a sense of camaraderie.

Father Buckley serves as Willie's spiritual guide, offering solace and moral guidance amid the violence and suffering of war. He becomes a confidante for Willie, helping him grapple with his conflicted feelings about the war and providing a source of faith and comfort.

Throughout the novel, Willie's relationships and interactions with the other characters shape his experiences and influence his character development.

Character Arcs

Willie Dunne's character arc in "A Long Long Way" is marked by his transformation from an innocent and idealistic young man to a disillusioned and emotionally scarred soldier. At the beginning of the story, Willie is filled with patriotic fervor and a sense of duty. However, as he witnesses the horrors of war, he becomes increasingly disillusioned and questions the purpose and morality of the conflict.

Willie's relationship with Gretta Lawlor serves as a source of hope and stability for him amidst the chaos of war. However, as the war progresses, their relationship becomes strained, reflecting the emotional toll that the war takes on Willie and their inability to fully understand each other's experiences.

Willie's friendship with Christy Moran provides him with a mentor figure who guides him through the challenges of war. Christy's resilience and bravery inspire Willie, and their bond represents the camaraderie and support found among soldiers in the trenches.

The relationship between Willie and Father Buckley represents Willie's struggle with faith and morality in the face of the violence and suffering he witnesses. Father Buckley provides him with spiritual guidance and helps him navigate his conflicting emotions.

As the story unfolds, Willie's character arc is shaped by the traumatic events he experiences and the relationships he forms with the other characters. His journey explores the psychological and emotional impact of war on an individual and raises questions about the morality and purpose of conflict.


Willie Dunne's relationships in "A Long Long Way" play a significant role in shaping his experiences and character development. The key relationships include:

  1. Gretta Lawlor: Gretta Lawlor represents Willie's love interest and serves as a symbol of stability and comfort. Their relationship reflects the challenges faced by soldiers and their loved ones during times of war.
  2. Christy Moran: Christy Moran becomes Willie's comrade and mentor in the trenches. Their friendship provides Willie with guidance and support, and their bond represents the camaraderie found among soldiers.
  3. Father Buckley: Father Buckley serves as Willie's spiritual guide, offering solace and moral guidance. Their relationship explores the role of faith and morality in the face of war's atrocities.
  4. Major Steward and Captain Pasley: Major Steward and Captain Pasley represent the hierarchical relationship between officers and soldiers. Their interactions with Willie highlight the contrasting leadership styles and their impact on the soldiers' experiences.
  5. Mrs. Dunne and Mr. Dunne: Willie's parents represent the anxieties and fears of families left behind by their loved ones who are fighting in the war. Their relationship with Willie reflects the emotional toll that war takes on both soldiers and their families.
  6. Sister Mary: Sister Mary, a nurse, becomes a confidante for Willie, providing comfort and support. Their relationship exemplifies the compassion and kindness found amidst the harsh realities of war.

The various relationships in the novel contribute to Willie's character development and explore the themes of love, friendship, loyalty, and the impact of war on individuals and their connections to others.

In conclusion, "A Long Long Way" by Sebastian Barry presents a rich tapestry of characters that contribute to the protagonist's development and the exploration of the human experience in times of war. The relationships and character arcs in the novel provide a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological impact of war on individuals and their connections to others.