of the novel, and the chairman of Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill.
Jack lives in Blacksmith, a quiet college town, with his fourth
wife, Babette, and four of their children from previous marriages.
Jack often worries that he will be found lacking or incompetent,
and as such he surrounds himself with things that make him look
weighty and dignified by association. Jack, like every American, faces
a continuous barrage of health and safety warnings from such sources
as the news media and the packaging on the consumer goods he buys. Consequently,
Jack is obsessed with the fear of his own death, a persistent dread
that becomes magnified by his exposure to a toxic substance. Jack
loves his wife, Babette, deeply, finding great comfort in her honesty and
in-depth analysis of Jack Gladney.
wife, and the mother of Wilder and Denise. Loving and caring, with
a head of messy blond hair, Babette's sturdy and guileless character
proves highly reassuring to Jack, particularly given the secretive, high-strung
women he’s been married to in the past. Babette teaches adult education
classes and reads to an elderly blind man named Old Man Treadwell.
Like her husband, Babette has a deep-seated, acute fear of dying.
She keeps this hidden from Jack and secretly begins participating
in an experimental drug trial to alleviate her fear. As the treatment
progresses, she has frequent memory lapses and becomes increasingly evasive.
in-depth analysis of Babette.
awkward, analytical fourteen-year-old son with Janet Savory. Heinrich
is dispassionate and skeptical and endlessly contradicts his father.
Heinrich was born in the same year Jack founded the Hitler studies department,
and he was given a German name in honor of that event.
manager responsible for the drug Dylar. Willie Mink conducts experimental
tests of the drug from his motel room, trading Dylar for sex. Willie
remains a mysterious figure through most of the novel, known only
as “Mr. Gray.” When we finally encounter him in the last two chapters
of the novel, Willie has gone half-crazy and spends his days staring
vacantly at a soundless television. Jack becomes fixated on Willie Mink,
partly because he wants revenge for Mink and Babette’s affair and
party because he wants to obtain a supply of Dylar for himself.
in-depth analysis of Willie Mink.
Murray Jay Siskind
- One of several professors from New York who teach
at the College-on-the-Hill. Murray always speaks in an exaggerated
academic style and is preoccupied with the deconstruction and analysis
of American popular culture. His ambition is to create a department devoted
to studying Elvis, much like Jack’s Hitler studies department.
in-depth analysis of Murray Jay Siskind.
German teacher. Solitary and taciturn, Howard lives in the same
boardinghouse as Murray.
seven-year-old daughter with Dana Breedlove. Steffie is far more
sensitive than the other children in her family and has trouble
watching television shows where characters get hurt or humiliated.
eleven-year-old daughter with Bob Pardee. Denise is a sharp, often
bossy girl and continually nags Babette about her health. She is
the first person to notice her mother’s memory lapses, and she discovers Babette’s
secret supply of Dylar.
friend, a nineteen-year-old senior at Heinrich’s high school. Orest
wants to set a new world record for sitting in a cage with poisonous
snakes. He claims to be unafraid of dying, which Jack, with his own
powerful fear of death, finds fascinating.
six-year-old son, and the youngest child in the family. Wilder never
speaks in the novel, and periodically Jack worries about the boy’s
slow linguistic development. Nevertheless, in his wordlessness,
he remains an essential source of comfort for both Jack and Babette.
More than any of the other children, Wilder seems genuinely open
to the kind of “psychic data” Murray believes American children
are privy to. Wilder has an older full brother, Eugene, though their
father remains unnamed in the novel.
- Brilliant neuroscientist at the College-on-the-Hill. Winnie
helps Jack learn about Dylar and Willie Mink. Jack discovers that
she is almost always impossible to find, since she goes out of her
way to be unnoticed.
Sister Hermann Marie
- Atheist German nun who treats Jack for his bullet
wound. Sister Hermann Marie tells Jack that she doesn’t believe
in heaven but that she and the other nuns maintain the illusion
of faith for the rest of the world’s sake.
father. Vernon is a rough, good-natured man, seemingly unafraid
of dying, who works with his hands and knows how to build things.
His skill and ability make Jack feel incompetent and less masculine. Vernon
drops by unexpectedly for a visit and gives Jack a loaded gun when
- Chairman of the American environments department
at the College-on-the-Hill. Stompanato is a tough, imposing personality
who, like Murray, is part of the college’s group of smart, caustic,
New York professors.
pensive, twelve-year-old daughter from his marriage to Tweedy Bonner.
Bee is a worldly, cosmopolitan child, and in this regard she makes
Jack highly self-conscious and uncomfortable.
ex-wife, and Bee’s mother. Tweedy is remarried to a high-level jungle
operative named Malcolm Hunt. Tweedy visits with Jack for a while
and confesses that Malcolm’s extended periods spent living abroad
under assumed identities make her anxious about her husband’s true
ex-wife, and Steffie’s mother. Dana is a contract agent for the
CIA who conducts covert drop-offs in Latin America. According to
Jack, Dana liked to plot and often got him entangled in domestic
and faculty battles.
ex-wife, and Heinrich’s mother. Janet now lives in ashram and is
known as Mother Devi. Before that, however, she was a foreign-currency
analyst for a secret group of advanced theorists.
- One of the New York professors at the College-on-the-Hill.
Dimitros is a large man and former bodyguard. He is Murray’s principal
competitor in Elvis studies, until he dies in a drowning accident.
Tommy Roy Foster
- A convicted killer serving time in a penitentiary.
Heinrich plays chess with Tommy Roy Foster via mail.
- Jack’s doctor.
Old Man Treadwell
- Elderly blind man, to whom Babette reads tabloids.
One day, Old Man Treadwell and his sister, Gladys, go missing for
several days. They are later discovered, lost and confused, in a
- Sister of Old Man Treadwell. She dies soon after she
and her brother get lost in a shopping mall for several days.
local psychic, called in by the police to help find the missing