McBurney seems to be a genuinely nice guy when the girls first find him in the woods. He joined up as a soldier, then got shot, and now needs a bunch of women to take care of him and hide him from the Union army, so he immediately starts physically and emotionally appealing to them in a nice guy humble act, adjusting his behavior to each women he’s dealing with; being more assertive with Martha, more tender with Edwina, and playful with the children. Once he’s able to get up and around, he starts helping out around the house and being useful to them in whatever way he sees fit, while subtly putting the moves on several of them. He uses physical things to his advantage, becoming a gardener with a specific idea of how the gardens should look – in the future, if he’s still around to tend them; he plies Edwina with vague romantic impressions of the future. His opportunistic nature and tendency to act on impulse is his undoing: his last night there, he makes the mistake of going to Alicia’s bedroom, which causes an emotional upheaval in the house and leads to his own downfall. Under stress, he becomes more physically aggressive, violent, and self-indulgent (drinking, and sexual relief). It’s rational for him to use the girls to protect himself, and he feels no guilt in doing it. He ‘gets a read’ on every girl in the school, and starts appealing to them on a level they will understand, but as these relationships start to fall apart, McBurney starts blaming them for everything. He becomes belligerent and violent, and projects sinister motives onto them, rather than admitting his own recklessness has brought about his downfall.

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McBurney is seeking a place to be safe and adjusting his behavior to make people like him well enough to take care of him. He looks for ways to be useful and necessary to their lives, in the hope that they won’t send him to Confederate prison. But under stressful situations, his true nature comes out – he becomes paranoid, insecure, and aggressively violent, accusing the women of attacking him, taking off his leg for no reason, and intending evil toward him. He becomes erratic, abusive, and violent, taking out his frustration on the girls through threats and assaults, in a desperate attempt to gain the upper hand, without trusting any of them. He feels resentment for having been “taken advantage of” and abused. McBurney doesn’t want to take responsibility for his own wrong actions and deflects blame onto others, lying and making up excuses for his actions and his role in the war. He enjoys pleasures and feels like he is ‘worthy’ of the best things in the house (his 7 wing’s tendency toward over-indulgence and impulses).