Nathan functions as a foil to Stingo, representing the qualities and accomplishments that Stingo aspires to have someday. On the surface, Nathan appears to be a highly educated and intelligent man with the potential for great career success ahead of him. He is often charming, charismatic, and popular, and he exerts a strong power over Sophie, such that she is willing to submit to him no matter how he treats her. Nathan also has a lot of self-confidence, which makes him compelling to other less self-assured characters. Both Sophie and Stingo fall under Nathan’s spell because of his decisive and confident demeanor. Nathan is also utterly committed to his intellectual beliefs even when they are controversial. He often triumphs in arguments and debates because he remains assured of his claims while Stingo gets overwhelmed and tongue-tied.
However, underneath Nathan’s surface appearance, he is a broken and tormented man motivated by rage and the desire to hurt others. Nathan is obsessed with the events of the Holocaust and with human suffering in general. He will often turn innocuous conversations into debates about slavery, racism, complicity, and evil. His obsessions and paranoia are fueled by his mental illness and drug addiction. When Nathan wrestles with his own demons, he also lashes out against others and treats them as representatives of much wider problems. Nathan treats Stingo as if Stingo is responsible for widespread problems in the American South, and he repeatedly accuses Sophie of being implicated in the atrocities of the Holocaust. Nathan insists that individuals who are members of a community or nation are responsible for the acts committed by that collective. He is motivated by a desire to punish and torment people whom he sees as implicated in historical atrocities. Nathan’s character does not change over the course of the novel, which explains his tragic fate of death by suicide at the conclusion.