Echo tells the story of the three protagonists Friedrich, Mike and Ivy. The characters are going to be presented according to the storyline they belong to.
The First Story
Friedrich Schmidt is the main protagonist of the first story and lives in Trossingen, a town in Germany. He is twelve years old and has blond and curly hair. As his mother died shortly after his birth, he is raised by his father and his older sister Elisabeth. At the beginning Friedrich appears to be shy and introverted, as he tries to hide the birthmark which covers one side of his face. He hunches his shoulders, tilts his right cheek toward the ground while walking (cf. Munoz Ryan 2015, 44) and invents an imaginary friend called Hansel. This is the reason why Friedrich has no friends at school and even worse, is bullied by his classmates. He ends up being taught at home by his father and working as the “youngest and smallest apprentice” (Ibid. 48) in the local harmonica factory.
He thinks of himself to appear “horrid” (Ibid. 46) and is referred to as “Monster Boy” (Ibid. 50) by his classmates. Living in Germany in the time before WWII, Friedrich does conform to the image of the so-called “pure German race” (Ibid.45). This is due not only because of his birthmark, but also because of the genetic disease of epilepsy, although he does not present any symptoms.
Friedrich finds solace in music and he hears orchestral pieces in his head which help him to forget about the bullying. The music seems to “[wash] his face clean” (Ibid. 46). He also feels lightness and weightlessness, whenever he is surrounded by music. His preferred instruments are the harmonica and the cello, but his true desire is to study Music in order to become a famous conductor.
One can observe the protagonist undergoing a development and therefore represent a major character: Initially, he feels restricted by his outer appearance, but he manages to overcome his fears of not fitting into society later in the book. Not only is he the one who invents the plan to rescue his father from being worked to death in “the hard-labor prison” (Ibid. 162) of Dachau. Also, his way of thinking changes as he finds “confidence and determination” (Ibid. 185) in playing the harmonica. He turns from being prudent into a courageous young boy. These changes can be observed in his behavior, as he is no longer willing to let a birthmark determine his actions. Even further, he uses the invisible power of music to courageously stand up and take responsibility for his father’s life.
Through the driving force of music, Friedrich steps out of the shadows of his childhood and finally ends up doing what he has always dreamed of: “[Conducting] the Empire Philharmonic” (Ibid. 547) in Carnegie Hall in New York at the age of 30.
Other minor characters are mentioned throughout Friedrich’s story, but are not described in detail. Nevertheless, they nearly all have one characteristic in common: They are sympathizers of the Nazi regime.
These characters include the soldiers Eiffel and Faber, the neighbor Mrs. Gerber, Rudolph a former friend of Martin and the “brother [of] the new regional commandant for the Nazi police” (ibid. 137). Finally, Anselm needs to be mentioned, who is Rudolph’s nephew and a leader of the Hitler Youth. As Friedrich and his family (except his sister Elisabeth) do not share their political convictions, these characters regard them to be enemies. They try to find evidence for actions and documents that are not approved by the regime. Muñoz Ryan describes the relationship between these characters with the following quote: “[Nothing] makes sense anymore. Neighbors reporting neighbors. Friends reporting friends… Everyone afraid. What horror is next?” (ibid. 140).
The Second Story
Mike Flannery is eleven years old, and the older one of two orphan brothers. He lives in “The Bishop’s Home for Friendless and Destitute Children” (Munoz Ryan 2015, 198) in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Like the other boys, Mike has to wear his hair short, wear a shirt, knickers and suspenders. He is almost six feet tall, has red hair and a face covered in freckles. The author describes him as “gangly, clumsy, and quiet” (ibid. 201).
Mike’s childhood is briefly described in a flashback: He experienced a hard time, as his parents died in his early childhood. His father died in a car accident and his mother overdosed, which is why he was raised by his grandmother. Mike has been suffering from this loss in his early childhood and found solace and relief in music. His playing seemed “to [mirror] his sorrow and anger and love” (ibid. 220).
The sorrows and the loss resulted in him growing up too quickly. The heavy burden of taking care of his younger brother is on his shoulders, which results in him not having any friends; he is kind of an underdog. Besides, he is described to be conspicuous and thoughtful. Originating from the bad circumstances of his childhood, he constantly asks for the catch, before being able to feel joy about something: “Mike wanted to feel […] joy, but some tiny intuition told him it had all been too easy. […] if something seemed too good to be true, it was probably a swindle.” (ibid. 258).
Mike is pictured as a responsible young boy. He is even willing to sacrifice his own luck in order to ensure his younger brother being happy and living a good life. Therefore, he agrees to an alleged arrangement with his brother’s potential adoptive mother. For this opportunity he is more than willing to accept an uncertain future for himself.
Eunice Dow Sturbridge
Eunice, also called “Eunie” (ibid. 332) is the woman who finally adopts Mike and Frankie, although she is opposed to the adoption in general. Her motive for her behavior is the loss of her own son during a tragic accident. The author pictures her as a real lady, wearing decent black clothes and high-heels. In addition, she is described by Frankie, who calls her pretty because of her hazel eyes with yellow flecks, her brown short bob of curls and her thin body (ibid. 264).
Eunice is pictured as lethargic and withdrawn, not revealing any emotions. She even avoids the two boys in order to avoid the confrontation with the vibrancy life after all still offers.
Throughout the story it is the character of Mike, who draws her out of her shadows and melts her heart: “Mike had given her the best medicine possible” (ibid. 329). One can observe a change in her language and body language. She communicates differently with Frankie and Mike. She refers to Mike as “[her] student”, instead of simply calling him by his name and “[puts] an arm around his shoulder and [hugs] him” (ibid.340). In conclusion, she manages to turn from the distant Mrs. Sturbridge into the warm-hearted and caring “aunt Eunie” (ibid. 342).
Pam Muñoz Ryan enriches Mike’s story with several characters. The reader could categorize them into the following groups:
One group represents adults, who support the protagonist Mike. Besides, the characters of Eunice and Mr. Howard, this group includes the house- and groundkeepers Mrs. and Mr. Potter. The Potters are described to be friendly and almost like grandparents. They are concerned about the boys’ welfare and basic desires and furthermore help them to fulfill their potentials.
The other group of people are presented to be antagonists of the orphan boys and consequently pictured negatively. Employees of the orphanage like Mrs. Pennyweather, Mrs. Godfrey and Mrs. Delancey belong to this mentioned group. Not only is their behavior described in a negative tone, but also their character and outer appearance seem to evoke antipathy. Mrs. Delancey “jerked [Frankie’s] arm and told him she [couldn’t] wait to get rid of [him]”. In addition, Mrs. Pennyweather is presented as a rigorous warden, who “pockets the [money]” (ibid. 226) and is all about business. Her mean character is supported by the description of looks: She wears a “navy-blue, high-necked dress, looking pinched. Her gray hair [is] pulled so tight into a topknot that her eyes squinted.” (ibid. 208).
The Third Story
Ivy Maria Lopez
Ivy is a young girl who lives in California with her parents. At the beginning of her story, she is a fifth-grader with “black lashes, long brown braids, and [a] wide [smile]” (Munoz Ryan 2015, 377). The reader’s attention is indirectly drawn onto Ivy’s Mexican heritage, by the description of her forced attendance of a separate school for Mexican children. Ivy is a cheerful child, who enjoys “to read, play jacks, and [jump] rope” (ibid. 378) in the beginning.
As her family moves across the country to find a suitable home and good jobs, Ivy has to experience the loss of new friends several times. Despite her young age, she feels responsible for her family. Therefore, she promised her brother who fights in WWII, “to be a good little soldier for [her] Mama and Papa” (ibid. 397) and to avoid complaining. She knows about the troubles her parents are already facing and wants to be a good daughter, supporting their decisions.
Her gentle nature is also revealed in her selfless behavior towards a neighboring girl at her new home in California: She helps Susan with her schoolwork and additionally teaches her to play the harmonica, as Ivy is a gifted musician (ibid. 438).
Ivy’s father describes her to be a daydreamer, not reflecting on important things in life by shouting: “Ivy! There are far more serious matters at hand than this… this indulgence of yours.” (ibid. 384). This statement does not prove to be true. Ivy is well aware of the dangers and struggles her family is currently facing, such as insecure working conditions and a son at war. She even develops into an ambitious girl, being eager to support the soldiers, by collecting money to buy war bonds. Even her father recognizes her process of growing up and asks her the following questions: “Ivy Maria, how did you get so wise so quickly? Where is that girl with her head in the clouds?” (ibid. 501).
Besides her family orientation, Ivy has a great sense of justice and equality, which is shown in her fury about the discrimination at school.
Music is important to Ivy as it offers a way of expressing her feelings: She “drifts somewhere in time” (ibid. 373) while playing the harmonica. She is gifted and considers a musical career but is disillusioned by her father’s attitude of “[thinking] so little of her harmonica playing” (ibid. 384). However, she is not willing to let his words discourage her and continues to live her dream. The author attributes Ivy’s talent to the emotions she puts into her playing: “[Ivy] closed her eyes and let herself be carried away on the emotions of the song.” (ibid. 468). “When she reached the last verse, she infused it with as much gumption and longing as she could pull from her heart.” (ibid. 469).
The author describes the characters of Miss Delgado, Miss Carmelo and Mr. Daniels in similar manners. Being the teachers of Ivy, they represent the grown-up society in the story. Through the choice of words, the author immediately creates a positive image in the readers’ minds: Miss Delgado is described to be “round-faced and rosy-cheeked” (ibid. 391) and constantly referred to as Ivy’s favorite teacher. Besides, she has an impact on her musical career, as she is the one who “had planted a seed that wouldn’t stop growing” (ibid. 394) by encouraging Ivy to play the harmonica.
Also, Mr. Daniels promotes Ivy’s talent. The reader empathizes with him as he is a fair teacher, not distinguishing between his students, according to their origin.
In conclusion, the author describes the teachers to be role models in terms of their thinking. Through their supportive behavior they try to enable the students to fulfill their potentials.