Study Guide

Thomas Balfour—Sagittarius in The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

Thomas Balfour—Sagittarius

Thomas Balfour is a shipping agent, which means he ends up being pretty important to a lot of the shenanigans involving cargo and ships in the novel. He's associated with the sign of Sagittarius, and he's the first person who really attempts to draw Moody out in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel on the night of the secret council.

Up to the day of the council, it seems that Balfour was extremely loyal to and even sycophantic with the powerful Alistair Lauderback (something Catton winks at by associating Lauderback with Jupiter, which rules Sagittarius).

Balfour is described as a pleasant enough guy, but not necessarily the most introspective or contemplative, at least when it comes to the deep dark secrets of human nature or life:

He had no real fascination with the soul, and saw it only as a pretext for the greater, livelier mysteries of humor and adventure; of the soul's dark nights, he had no opinion. (I.1.166)

As a result of this kind of stubborn disinterest in the more shadowy hallways of human nature, Balfour isn't exactly the most sympathetic dude, and "his sympathy rarely extended to situations where sympathy was expected to extend" (I.1.166).

So, it seems that Balfour is more into action and adventure than angst and soul-searching. Perhaps if he were more into examining/keeping an eye on his own motives or soul, he might have been less inclined to blurt out some of the secrets of the Crown council to Lauderback to appease his own vain sense that Shepard was getting too much praise from Lauderback for efficiency…But who knows?

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