Study Guide

George Shepard—Saturn in The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

George Shepard—Saturn

George Shepard is associated with the planet Saturn, which is the "taskmaster" of the Zodiac and the "Planet of Karma," both of which seem apt given George's character.

His related influence is "Restriction," which seems pretty apt, since he's a jailer. He definitely seems to have strong ideas about right, wrong, and justice—and, going back to that karma thing, he seems to feel entitled to dish out retribution…even he doesn't want to admit it. If you can believe it, Shepard tries to claim that his murder of Sook wasn't revenge, telling Devlin afterwards that he doesn't even agree with the concept of seeking vengeance:

"Revenge…is an act of jealousy, not of justice. It is a selfish perversion of the law." (III.10.62)

However, based on clues scattered throughout the rest of the book, we know that the murder likely had everything to do with revenge and jealousy. You see, Shepard believed that Sook had killed his brother Jeremy. Not so mysteriously, George had developed an extreme prejudice against the Chinese in general in the wake of that event, and he had been having Sook watched for some time. So, it kind of sounds like Shepard probably had it out for Sook, even if he didn't want to admit it to himself.

For sure, Shepard seems to go all-in on presenting/thinking of himself as a righteous and moral guy. For example, he likes to pat himself on the back for the attention to duty he showed in marrying Jeremy's wife, Margaret, after Jeremy's death:

It was the moral thing to do. I am not like my brother,…neither in temperament nor in taste. He was a dissolute. I do not mean to commend myself by contrast, but the difference between us was very often remarked. It had been remarked since our childhoods. I knew virtually nothing of his marriage to Margaret. She was a barmaid. She was not a beauty, as you know. But I married her. I did the dutiful thing. I married her, and provided for her, in her loss … (III.10.32).

How noble of him to marry a plain girl—shall we all burst into applause now? He may claim he doesn't want to commend himself, but that's exactly what he does here—making his poor opinion of his wife all too clear in the bargain. So, that doesn't exactly make him look like a knight in shining armor to us …

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