Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat

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The Boys in the Boat Major Character Analysis

Joe Rantz

Joe is a member of the American Olympics rowing team, the University of Washington rowing team, and the central protagonist of The Boys in the Boat. In college, Joe is a tall man, he has “broad shoulders and solidly built” (11). Joe is the victim of an extremely difficult childhood; his mother dies when he is young, his new stepmother hates and abuses him, and his father abandons him at the age of ten as a result of his wife’s attitude. Because of these experiences, Joe is both intensely independent and wary of forming relationships with others. Though he quickly falls in love with Joyce Sidmars, his childhood sweetheart, he struggles to befriend any of his teammates and fails to grasp the importance of true teamwork and trust. Joe is self-sufficient and a survivor—Joyce considers him the “embodiment of freedom” (65). He forages for food, hangs of cliff faces, poaches fish, and wears the same sweater each day in his quest for food, shelter, and a college education. His teammates initially bristle at Joe’s aloofness, calling him “Mr. Individuality” (129), and poke fun at his impoverished background. Joe responds in kind, refusing to engage with or open up to any of them. But when Joe is temporarily demoted to a lower boat, he realizes that he misses his teammates, that their cautious camaraderie “did matter, a lot” (221). After George Pocock takes Joe under his wing, Joe learns to trust again, forging new relationships with his teammates as well as his estranged father and younger stepsiblings.

Al Ulbrickson

Al Ulbrickson is the head coach of the Washington crew team and “the boss” (15). He is particular and demanding of the boys, a “stickler for detail” (15). Though some think his reticence verges on “ the point of rudeness” (86), he is deeply protective of the boys on the team, eventually raising huge sums of money to send them to Berlin and carefully selecting each boy according to their strengths and weaknesses. The boys on the team have great respect for Ulbrickson, as do the other members of the racing…

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