Stingo is the protagonist of the novel, and he is defined mainly by his motivation to perform what he sees as a successful version of masculinity. In Stingo’s mind, a man is defined by his professional success and his sexual prowess. Throughout the novel, Stingo’s actions are motivated by his desire to write a successful novel and to lose his virginity. He believes that achieving these goals will help him to feel more confident. Because Stingo has not yet achieved a significant milestone in either his professional or romantic life, he spends much of the novel feeling insecure and anxious. Stingo’s intense focus on proving that he can be a good writer and that he can get a woman to sleep with him makes him self-absorbed, and sometimes blind to events that are happening around him.
While Stingo can be self-absorbed and narcissistic, he is also curious and interested in learning about the world around him. Having grown up in the American South, Stingo is intrigued by his predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn because this setting seems exotic to him. Stingo is fascinated by the stories he hears from Sophie about her life in Europe and her experiences during the Holocaust. Stingo is self-aware and able to realize that by hearing Sophie’s story, he gains an understanding about world events that he had previously lacked. At the same time, Stingo has the humility to recognize that he will never be able to fully comprehend the horrors that Sophie witnessed. Stingo’s curiosity and interest in the lives of others are tied to his identity as a writer. As a result, he often uses the stories he hears as the basis for fiction he wants to write. This tendency to adopt the stories of others reflects a complexity in Stingo’s character wherein he is both compassionate and sincere in his curiosity but also uses the pain of others as material for his creative projects.
Stingo’s character changes over the course of the novel as he gradually loses his innocence. At the start of the novel, Stingo is optimistic about his future and sees the world as a place filled with potential. He readily trusts the people he meets and tends to take their statements at face value. Through his relationship with Sophie and Nathan, Stingo comes to see that individuals are complex and may be secretive about their pasts and their true identities. Stingo feels a strong sense of betrayal rooted in the way Nathan treats him, and as he learns about the horrors of what Sophie lived through, he questions the nature of evil in the world and in humanity. Stingo’s loss of innocence culminates when Sophie and Nathan commit suicide. After this tragedy, Stingo is forced to reckon with the knowledge that suffering can sometimes be too intense for people to endure. Although Stingo does not ultimately lose faith in the possibility of goodness or in the power of art, he ends the novel as someone who has a much bleaker understanding of the world he lives in.