The most important character in the short story “The Waste Land” by Alan Paton is the old man from whose point of view the events are rendered. Additionally, the young men who want to rob him function as a collective character.
The old man
Most of the outer and inner characterisation of the old man in the short story is done indirectly, through his actions and thoughts, and many times it is only suggestive of his traits and not directly informative.
For instance, his outer characterisation is suggested through references to a “heavy stick” (p. 85, l. 2) which implies he is old and the final mention that he is the father of one of the thieves (p. 85, l. 43).
When it comes to his inner characterisation, the man depicts himself directly as “hard-working and law-abiding” (p. 85, l. 20). Apart from this, most of his personality traits surface indirectly.
Because the man lives in a dangerous society, he has lost all optimism and even trust in God; for him, the world is a dangerous place, in which one is defenceless: “Mercy was the unknown word.” (p. 84, l. 13); “…behind him was the high wall of the convent, and the barred door that would not open before a man was dead.” (p. 84, ll. 17-19)
The young men
The young men function as a collective character. Besides them being young, we also know that one of them is Freddy, the old man’s son. Apart from this, all we know about them is from the father’s perspective.
For the old man, this gang of young thieves is merciless and capable of murdering people for money: