The Golden Age

by

Joan London

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Sullivan Backhouse Character Analysis

Frank’s close friend in the IDB, Sullivan is completely paralyzed and lives in an iron lung. While Sullivan is the son of an affluent and powerful Australian family and Frank is a poor refugee, the two boys are immediately drawn to each other. Sullivan is remarkably cheerful despite his situation and retains his passion for reading and composing poetry. It’s Sullivan who awakens Frank’s love for poetry and makes him realize he wants to be a poet. Sullivan’s death from fever is a big blow to Frank; as an adult, he publishes a memoir about his friend and some poetry fragments he had transcribed, showing Sullivan’s lasting influence on Frank’s character and art.

Sullivan Backhouse Quotes in The Golden Age

The The Golden Age quotes below are all either spoken by Sullivan Backhouse or refer to Sullivan Backhouse. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Survival Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Europa edition of The Golden Age published in 2014.
6. The Poet Quotes

He felt her reverence for music and literature was theatrical, deliberate, and set them even more apart from everyone else.

Related Characters: Frank Gold (speaker), Ida Gold, Sullivan Backhouse
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Why do I refuse it? he thought, wheeling off. His parents, he knew, regarded his lost legs as one more tragedy they had to bear. I refuse to be their only light. I want to be my own reason for living.

Related Characters: Frank Gold (speaker), Ida Gold, Meyer Gold, Sullivan Backhouse
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Golden Age LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Golden Age PDF

Sullivan Backhouse Character Timeline in The Golden Age

The timeline below shows where the character Sullivan Backhouse appears in The Golden Age. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
5. Frank’s Vocation
Survival Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
...he writes down the words, he realizes that the poem could be about Elsa or Sullivan, who taught him about poetry at IDB. All of Frank’s poems are in some way... (full context)
6. The Poet
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Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...the ceiling, called “The Snowfield,” and a recites a couple lines. He introduces himself as Sullivan Backhouse and approves of Frank’s name, which he says is “apposite.” Frank doesn’t understand what... (full context)
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Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
...to the ward every day, disregarding formal visiting hours, and the two boys discuss poetry. Sullivan informs him that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme or be about heroes. He especially admires... (full context)
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Before polio, Sullivan was a popular prefect and captain of the rowing team at a boy’s college. He... (full context)
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A dignified man with an important government job, Sullivan’s father, Mr. Backhouse, often visits. He’s kind to Frank and asks him how he likes... (full context)
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Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Frank notices that Sullivan always has a joke or story ready for these visits; he’s cheerfully taken on the... (full context)
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Another day, Sullivan muses to Frank that real life only happens when one is alone. He references a... (full context)
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Eventually, Sullivan gets to spend some time each day out of the lung. He and Frank sit... (full context)
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Sullivan’s dramatic story makes Frank ashamed of his own onset, which he feels emblematizes the “loud,... (full context)
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Sullivan says Mr. Backhouse wants to publish the rhyming poems that he wrote before polio. Sullivan... (full context)
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The next day, Sister Addie tells Frank that Sullivan spiked a fever during the night and died suddenly. His iron lung is already missing,... (full context)
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Frank looks at Sullivan’s poetry, which he’s transcribed on a prescription pad. He knows it’s up to him to... (full context)
7. The Trains
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Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
When Frank wakes up in the hospital on the day of Sullivan’s death, Meyer is there. He says that the hospital has arranged for Frank to move... (full context)
8. The First Time Frank Saw Elsa
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Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...alone, even though he tries not to think about IDB because it reminds him of Sullivan’s death. He feels unable to write poetry or complete Sullivan’s work at the Golden Age. (full context)
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
That night, Frank dreams about Sullivan. His old friend is standing waist-deep in a lake; his muscles are strong and capable,... (full context)
11. Bellbirds
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Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...the forced rhyme scheme, and the words seem “false” to him, not like the poetry Sullivan wrote. He informs Mrs. Simmons that “poems don’t have to rhyme anymore” and is frustrated... (full context)
27. Poetry
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...the rare opportunity to be taken seriously, the only lines he can think of are Sullivan’s. After reciting them, he feels instantly guilty and confesses. Hal, unperturbed, says that if the... (full context)
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Frank tries to contact the Backhouse family to return Sullivan’s poetry, but is informed that they’ve moved abroad and left no forwarding address. (full context)
32. New York
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...struggling with polio. Frank ignores this and instead announces he’s just published a book about Sullivan Backhouse, including all his poetry and an essay by Frank about their brief friendship and... (full context)