Bradley Pearson is the main character of the novel and also the one who writes the majority of it. In the beginning of the book, Bradley is a cold, occasionally cruel man. Although he acts politely, his internal monologue usually reveals him to be much less polite than he appears. Much of his external behavior is shockingly rude, especially to Christian and Francis. Furthermore, his self-interested nature leads him to neglect his sister, Priscilla. Even when he hears that she has killed herself, he lacks the compassion and concern that one would normally feel for a sibling. Despite his unfriendly nature, Bradley is a compelling character because he changes throughout the book and also because he aspires, to some extent, to do good, primarily by writing a novel. Bradley's love of Julian changes him. Bradley's lengthy description of his love, at the beginning of Part Two, allows us to understand the nuances of his soul. With his heart fully exposed, it is difficult to dislike him, even if some of his behaviors are less than honorable. The way that Bradley keeps changing also makes him an intriguing figure. By the end of the book, he is a kinder, gentler soul, having experienced true love and after having seen the errors of his ways. Bradley is finally able to act selflessly, by not accusing Rachel of Arnold's murder. Bradley's ability to change and eventually realize his faults makes him a likeable character, despite his earlier bad deeds.
Julian is the twenty-year old daughter of Arnold and Rachel Baffin, with whom Bradley falls in love. Julian is characterized by youth and naïveté. She has never been a successful student, but suddenly decides that she wants to be a writer. Her lack of knowledge that Homer and Dante were poets, however, shows her sudden career goals to be romanticized dreams. The way that she falls in love with Bradley is equally so. In one of the opening scenes, she performs an exorcism to rid her recent boyfriend from her life, but after just one week she believes that she pictures marrying Bradley and living happily ever after. Such ideas are naïve and romantic. Were she involved with a man her own age and not Bradley, such naïveté would likely not be a proble
Her failure to understand the dynamics behind her relationship with Bradley is problematic. First, her cluelessness leads her to confess the affair to her parents. Furthermore, she cannot understand why they appear so angry about it. Later, she throws herself from a moving car to prove her love. While she is not seriously hurt, her youthful impetuous actions suggest trouble. Her illusions finally will be shattered when Bradley makes violent love to her, leaving her weeping. The lustfulness of his passion finally reveals to her the nature of Bradley's self and after she realizes it, she flees. Julian is a sympathetic character, but also a slightly foolish one. Furthermore, because Bradley is telling the story, Julian often comes across as sexually aggressive. As Bradley describes it, Julian almost initiated their affair by insisting that he become her teacher, inviting him to the opera, and coming over for a Hamlet tutorial. Despite Bradley's perceptions, Julian remains a naïve, not extraordinary girl who is unversed in the ways of love. Julian's youth, however, generally forgives her character faults.
Francis Marloe's primary role in the novel is comic. Francis is a classic buffoon style character, characteristic of Greek comedy or Shakespeare. Francis is comic because he is pitiful and easy to be laughed at. The other characters laugh at him consistently and cruelly. Bradley Pearson's cruel treatment of Francis, in particular makes us want to sympathize with him. But even as we long to respect Francis, his constant fumbling makes it difficult to take him seriously. He longs to doctor Priscilla, for example, but he leaves her alone to get drunk with Bradley's homosexual neighbor, during which time Priscilla kills herself. Furthermore, in his explanation of the incident, Francis insists that the neighbor, Rigby, drugged the wine so Francis could not return, whereas it is more likely that Rigby and Francis were having sex. Francis's final postscript makes him look entirely silly. Francis's identity as a comic figure also comes from his pitiful background, being a doctor whose license was taken away for misuse of pharmaceuticals. Finally, his tendency to ingratiate himself to everyone makes him easy to laugh at. In many ways Francis is a sad character, often talking about the pain of his life, but still his loose emotions serve for comic effect.