Characterisation is the most prominent feature of this text as Ibbotson creates two families of contrasting characters, the Herdmanns and the Colesloggets, as well as the two contrasting misfits, Theodore(Theo) and Richard(Ricky). The Herdmanns are portrayed as an intellectual, musically gifted, reserved and austere family who pride themselves on their academic and musical capabilities. The Herdmanns come across as perfectionists particularly when it comes to the children, who they expect to be brilliant at both school and music. In comparison, the Colesloggets are presented as a rowdy, loving, playful, warm and down to earth family who value outdoor activities as a family. Both families have characteristics and values that are carried over to Theo and Richard, who respectively fit in with the Colesloggets and the Herdmanns. Theo and Richard are two contrasting characters who are polar opposite in their abilities and values, however exactly the same in their positions as misfits. Both of the boys keenly feel a sense of 'otherness' as they have an impaired sense of identity due to their inability to fit in with the people they call family and have a full sense of belonging. Ibbotson focuses on Theo as the main protagonist, rather than Richard however, to highlight how disheartening it is for a child to feel like they are a disappointment to their family simply because they do not exhibit the same talents as their siblings. The Colesloggets are a family of 'mediocritists' in comparison to the perfectionist Herdmanns, meaning Theo had never felt like he could live up to his families expectations, shown by their repeat statements that he was “not trying”. Despite the text being written in third person, the reader is still able to easily sympathise with Theo as he struggles to find his place and identity within the Herdmann family.
Ibbotson utilises setting in 'The Misfit' in order to further draw attention to the contrast between the two families. The Herdmann's home has a cold, empty and institutional feeling to it, symbolic of the loneliness and detachment Theo experiences as part of the Herdmann household. The Herdmann family's strict focus on learning is emphasised by the fact they “wouldn't have a television set in the house” and “that the only computer in the house was in his father's study and was not allowed to be used for playing games”, suggesting the Herdmann children were expected to devote all their time to nurturing their brains and musical abilities. Whereas the Coleslogget's Farm is a “shabby, rundown house” that “wasn't a farm with cows and pigs and chickens. If there was anything farmed there it seemed to be children...” suggesting that it is a far more nurturing environment where children flourish. The Herdmann's home and the Coleslogget's Farm are two completely opposite environments representing where Theo wants to leave and where he wishes he could be, demonstrated by the moment Theo “...felt he was actually moving into the house and that he had a right to be there, a right to escape the from all the disappointment and disapproval.” Ibbotson successfully polarises both families into two separate environments; nurturing versus institutional and perfectionist versus 'mediocritists' and where Theo and Richard truly belong. The sense of longing Theo feels whenever he passes Coleslogget Farm on the train demonstrates to the reader his underlying awareness of where he belongs despite him