Despite his many flaws, Charlie is a man whom almost everyone can’t help but like. It’s surprising that Charlie’s so likeable considering his wild past of uncontrollable alcoholism, his possible complicity in his wife’s death, and the fact that he essentially abandoned his child. Charlie is hard to dislike in part because he seems so earnest in his efforts to turn over a new leaf. If we’re wary of him in the beginning of the story, we increasingly trust him as he rebuffs his former friends and sticks to just one drink a day. Fitzgerald also conveys Charlie’s great personal charm. Charlie is a physically attractive man, a quality that clearly affects Lorraine and possibly even Marion. He is also a winning, persuasive speaker, able to manipulate listeners without seeming to try.
If we can’t help but like Charlie, however, neither can we help feeling slightly suspicious of him. His justification for taking one drink per day makes sense when he explains it—he implies that he doesn’t want to give alcohol undue power over him by avoiding it altogether—but seems nonsensical later. We wonder if he has hoodwinked us and worry that he’ll slip back into drinking heavily. When Charlie disavows his former friends, we think back to the beginning of the story when he gives Lincoln and Marion’s address to Alix, knowing that it’ll land in Duncan Schaeffer’s hands. As a result, we wonder whether some part of him actually wants to return to the old days. Although we’re naturally inclined to take Charlie’s side because of his good intentions, Fitzgerald doesn’t allow us to root for him unrestrainedly.
Marion acts both as a stand-in and a foil for the reader. On the one hand, we likely share all her reservations about Charlie. On the other hand, her off-putting personal qualities set us against her. We want to dismiss her reservations, even if we know we shouldn’t, which puts us even more firmly in Charlie’s camp. Marion is the mirror image of Charlie: although logic demands that we approve of her actions, her prickly personality masks her essential goodness and makes her difficult to like. Marion is unhappy with her own life and focuses her frustrations on Charlie, but there’s no doubt that she is a good woman. She has taken Honoria in, treated her as her own child, and brought her up to be a happy, self-sufficient girl. She also loves her husband. Her marriage to him is the most successful romantic adult relationship in the story, a stark contrast to Charlie’s disastrous marriage, which ended in senseless destruction. Still, Marion’s judgmental tone and slight air of irrationality make her an unsympathetic character. Because we see Marion from Charlie’s perspective, we focus only on her frustrations rather than her good motivations.