Characterization Exercise: Reverend John Rathier
Today, in an effort to work out how to progress the plot for my next novel which is a Western revenge story, I decided to sit down with my main character, Reverend John Rathier to learn more about him.
Reverend John Rathier is a preacher living in Rayburn’s Hollow, a small town in southern Colorado. His adventure takes place in 1885.
MH: Hello Reverend. Let’s start with the basics. How old are you when we’re introduced to you in the story?
RJR: I’d be around forty-six years old. The war ended in 1865, at which point I became a free man. I remember that day because I’d just turned twenty-six.
And where were you born?
I’m from Branson, Missouri. I was born on a cotton farm. Born a slave.
How did you come to be a preacher?
I was an angry man in my youth. I’d had to do terrible things during my time there. I couldn’t understand what was going on and I hated being so angry and so full of hate all the time. When I was freed, I moved with my remaining family out to Colorado and the local priest there took us in and allowed me to help around the church. At the time, it helped. I could help the community and, I guess that was my way of moving past all the evil in my head. It just made sense to become a preacher. I felt God had saved me and gave me a new life. I wanted to do the same.
What sort of terrible things did you have to do?
Growing up as a half-black slave is hard. You don’t fit in with the white folks, you don’t fit in with the black folks. Never knew my father, either. Not fitting in meant everyone, black and white, would treat me like an outcast. I didn’t belong to either group, and I was never meant to be a part of either. I fought a lot, sometimes for my life. The master saw me fighting off a few of the other slaves and put me into the fighting circuit. I’d go around to other farms and have to fight other slaves. And sometimes these white folk, they act like they got something to prove all the time so once the other gave up, they’d make me keep going. Pounding this poor kid until he didn’t breathe no more. Something changes inside you when you’re forced to kill another man. I felt unclean. But I’d get a pat on the back and a few days off work. The other slaves treated me worse when I had the days off. Made me want to throw the fights some days.
I didn’t realize we’d get into this heavy of a topic so early on. Mind if we switch to something a little lighter?
What three qualities do you believe most define you?
Hmm. Perseverance is one. Once I start something, I want to see it through to the end. The second quality would be resourcefulness. Life is not easy in the west. We don’t have the pleasures and comforts of the city. Me, I was a slave, right? So I had to be creative with my environment to get the job done sometimes. Last one would have to be a good sense of justice. But it’s my own justice. I’ve been around long enough to know the law doesn’t care — God doesn’t care. Nobody cares.
What three qualities would you hope others see in you?
Caring, fairness, wisdom. Next question.
What behaviour most angers you in other people, and what behaviour do you have the most patience for?
Selfishness. I hate selfishness. We’re all here together, we have to look out for each other. What I can forgive is impulsiveness. People sometimes, they just get upset, or something happens and they act before they consider what they’re doing. A lot of time, acting impulsively is just people defending themselves.
What’s your personal motto?
God forgives all, I forgive some.
If you could be forgiven for one thing, what would it be?
All the killing I’ve done. None of us are perfect, and even though I preach the Good Word, I’m human just like you.
If you could succeed at one thing in life, what would it be?
Closing the book on my past. What happened back then haunts me. I know it to be the source of all my anger.
Follow up: do you believe you’ll be successful at that one thing?
-laughs- I believe I’ll either be successful or die trying to be. A man has to be a little crazy to believe he’ll succeed at anything, especially when the odds are stacked against you. But I’ve got a good friend with me now.
Tell me about your friend. How would you describe him?
Isaiah, he was the only one back on the farm who didn’t hate me because of my mixed background. After we were all freed, he left. Texas or Arizona I think. He became a bounty hunter. Self-sufficient and all that. His way of dealing with the past was bringing justice to those who did others wrong. He’s a loyal, honest man. He’s smart too. Always has a plan. Always thinking of what could happen, and how to turn things for his favour. When you think you’re a step ahead of him, he’s already four steps ahead of you. He saved me from myself and I owe a lot to him.
What event in your life do you wish you could relive?
The day we got freed. Some of us just packed up and left, some stayed on to work for wages. Me and my sister, we left.
What about your mother?
She’d been dead for two years by that point. She got into a fight with the owner, Mr. Fairchild, about something and he’d been drinking and he hit her and he didn’t stop. I was there when it happened too. He kept her close by as long as I’ve known, but she must’ve upset him real bad. When he got angry that day, he just let it all out. I was frozen. I couldn’t even move or scream to stop it.
What event in your life would you most like to forget?
Tell me about Mr. Fairchild.
He was the oldest son of Mr. Fairchild Sr. the original owner of the farm. He got sick and the Mr. Fairchild I know had run it as long as I remember.
Do you know much about him?
I could pick him out in a crowd if I’d seen him. He’s probably in his seventies now, if he’s still alive. Always wanted more power. He probably got rid of his father so he could take over the farm early on in his life. He could smile to your face but stab you in the back the second you turned around and say he didn’t do it. He’s plain evil.
What’s a choice you made that you weren’t sure about at the time, but are now glad you made?
That’s tough. Probably becoming a preacher. At the time, I was lost. Angry, young, stupid. I needed discipline and Reverend Paulson was there for me at that time. He lives up in Two Pines, over in Colorado now. I only went along with becoming a preacher because it distracted me from feeling angry all the time. I wanted to leave all the time. I felt my ideas and the ideas in the Bible didn’t line up. Looking back, I’m glad I stayed.
If you could ask God two questions, what would they be?
Number one: Why did you not help me when I asked you?
Number two: If the intent behind a bad action is good, and the outcome of a bad action has a large positive effect, is it still a bad action?
Last one. What’s the worst thing that could happen to you tomorrow?
I think if my sister was taken from me, I would be lost. She’s helped keep me on the good path. We live together, she helps out with the church. She’s the only family I have left.