50 pages 1 hour read

Tana French

The Witch Elm

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Character Analysis

Toby Hennessy

Content Warning: This section of the guide discusses death by suicide and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Toby Hennessy is The Witch Elm’s protagonist and narrator, with the novel’s themes developing around his character arc. The other characters challenge and push Toby to be more aware and empathetic to injustices he has avoided for most of his life. At the novel’s beginning, he is clueless about the hardships brought on by inequity, demonstrating How Luck and Privilege Limit Empathy. Toby has no qualms about misusing his privilege to get ahead in life, particularly while working as a public relations executive for a local art gallery. He is an attractive, healthy, heterosexual white man from a wealthy family, and he fails to understand why his friends criticize him for committing fraud at work, risking the potential success of young artists with less privilege. Still, he is conscious enough to hide his opportunistic side from his empathetic girlfriend, Melissa.

Toby feels a complete loss of identity after being brutally assaulted in his apartment. His physical and mental limitations provoke anger and violence, and he develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which interferes with his sleep and ability to leave home.