Narrator- made privy to the struggles and tensions of home life
Weight of responsibility
Father lives vicariously through his son
Assiduous and conscientious
Manages to pass the entrance exam into Heathcroft
Equable – even-tempered
But as the novel develops…………
Embittered by life
Callum McGregor is one of the novel’s protagonists. He is a nought character and as a result suffers a lot of discrimination as a result of the colour of his skin. As one of the novel’s narrators, we are made privy to the struggles and tensions of home life. He is a character who develops and evolves over the course of the novel. Initially when we meet Callum, he comes across as a very even-tempered, pleasant young man. He is an assiduous student who works very hard to gain entry to Heathcroft by passing exams that were designed for him to fail in the first place. He is an optimistic young boy who is very enthusiastic about going to Heathcroft because he is aware of the opportunities that education afford him:
‘I’ve got into Heathcroft now and nothing, not even dynamite, is going to get me out again’.Callum firmly believed that education was the way to cross the social divide:“Once I had a proper education behind me, no-one could turn around and say “you’re not smart enough or good enough”. No- one. I was on my way UP! And with a proper education behind me, nothing could stand between Sephy and me. Nothing”.
It is one of the novel’s tragedies that Callum’s idealism and optimism are crushed by the parochialism and prejudice of society. We see a dramatic change in this character as he takes on the weight of his family’s expectations. His father is extremely proud that his son has gain entry to the prestigious Heathcroft. However, Callum struggles under the burden of responsibility. His father is living vicariously through his so: ‘A son of mine at Heathcroft School.’ Dad shook his head, his spoon poised before his lips. “Imagine that”.
Callum’s mother, however is not blind to the challenges facing her son as she tries to point these out: ‘But I think you and your father are underestimating how much of a …………………challenge it’s going to be. I don’t want to see you getting upset”. Callum is reluctant to quell the hopes and aspirations of his father so soon and is quite evasive in response to his father’s query as to how his first day went: ‘The honest one or the acceptable one? “It was ok Dad”, I fibbed. Once we got to school it was alright”.
He develops into a discerning character who is completely aware of the disparities that exist between noughts and crosses: ‘They all looked at us noughts through their nostrils’. He describes how unjustly he is treated in school: ‘The teachers had totally ignored us, and the Crosses had used any excuse to bump into us and knock our books on the floor, and even the noughts serving in the food hall had made sure they served everyone else in the queue before us’.
Callum is an extremely solicitous and loyal character especially when it comes to his family and friends. We see the solicitous side of his character when he tries to shield his emotionally vulnerable and delusional sister, Lynette from the truth- the fact that she is not a Cross. He is quite loyal and protective of Sephy and is outraged when she is assaulted in the toilets by the students of Heathcroft. He is completely aware that their friendship has turned her into a social pariah. Again we see his solicitous nature when he rebukes Sephy for using alcohol as a means of escaping her problems: ‘No, you’re worse. You’re a drunk. A lush. An alcy’. He knows Sephy and knows exactly what to say to her in order to get a reaction.
Callum suffers discrimination at Heathcroft when he is wrongfully suspended because his father has been wrongfully accused of the Dundale bombing. He is told by the governors: ‘The governors and I have decided that it would serve everyone’s best interests if you were suspended for a while’. However, Callum does not accept his suspension acquiescently: ‘I’m guilty until my dad’s proven innocent? He defiantly walks out: ‘I turned back and slammed the door as hard as I could”. However, this incident is extremely traumatic for him: ‘I was being gutted like a fish wriggling for its life on a slab’.
The miscarriage of justice involving his father and his father’s subsequent death has a profound impact on him. He is clearly traumatised by what has happened and as a result he becomes extremely embittered by life. His nobility is corrupted and he becomes a cynical, bitter hard character. He declares how:
‘Revenge is a dish best served cold- and they’re right. I served it icy-cold. And I lost more of myself as I did so. But that was ok. Because the Callum Ryan McGregor who loved to sit on the beach and watch the sun go down didn’t exist any more. He’d been taken and I’d been left in his place. A poor trade, but an inevitable one’.
Callum’s humanity is vitiated as he tries to come to terms with his father’s death, his sister’s death and the disappearance of his brother. He describes how he is able to work his way up the Liberation Militia. He describes the different tests that he has to undergo in order to prove himself. He ruthlessly describes the different tests that he underwent:
‘To make it as a grunt I had to beat up a dagger. I ambushed one on his way home from work and knocked seven bells out of him. To prove myself as a private I had to take on three of them, but for that I was allowed to be armed. I had a knife and I’d taught been how to use it’.
However, despite this ruthlessness of character he still retains his humanity when it comes to Sephy, helping her escape from his brother and the other members of the Liberation Militia. He pointed to Orion’s Belt and told her to follow it until she reached the road. It is a huge miscarriage of justice that Callum is executed for a crime that he did not commit even though Sephy stated that he did not rape her.