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One of the narrators. Bernard is friendly, garrulous, and in many ways the glue that holds the group of friends together. He is the least snobbish of the group, willing to talk to anyone as an equal. Bernard wants to become a novelist, though his hopes go unfulfilled. By the end of the novel, however, he achieves the greatest insight into the lives of the other characters.
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The headmaster at the private boarding school the boys attend. Dr. Crane represents both traditional authority and religion, and the boys’ individual responses to him are telling. Neville despises him as a repressive, pompous, insincere figure, while Louis admires him as the representative of the English society he so much wants to be a part of. Bernard sees the headmaster primarily as a character about whom he can spin a story.
One of the narrators. Jinny is a beautiful, upper-class woman who leads the life of a glamorous socialite. She is grounded in the here-and-now, rarely wondering about the deeper significance of events or the symbolic value of things—a marked contrast to her friends. She is intensely physical, seeing her body and her sexuality as her primary means of interacting with the world. Jinny is perhaps the most static of the main characters, though she does come to terms with her own aging.
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One of the narrators. Louis’s father is an Australian banker, and Louis is painfully aware of his own accent and his lower-class status in comparison with his friends. He is driven by a desire to escape his position as an outsider and to prove the superiority of his own intellect. Louis becomes a successful businessman, but he also wants to become a poet in order to make something permanent out of the passing disorder of everyday life. Louis is attracted to both the concrete reality of life in London and the ideal realm of art. He and Rhoda are lovers for a time, but she eventually leaves him.
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One of the narrators. Neville is refined, intellectual, and upper class, with a deep appreciation of beauty. Neville loves Percival from afar, admiring him for being everything Neville is not—athletic, charismatic, and grounded in practical reality. After Percival’s death, Neville pursues many different lovers, devoting himself intensely to each for a time and then moving on. Neville desires order and beauty, and he tries to exclude much of the disorder and ugliness of the world from his life by isolating himself with his books and his lovers. Neville becomes a famous poet.
Read an in-depth analysis of Neville
A friend of each of the main characters. The boys meet Percival at school, where he is one of the most popular students. Percival is handsome and charismatic, a natural leader. He is killed when he is thrown from a horse in India, where he has gone to work in the colonial government. Percival is in love with Susan, though he does not act on it, and Neville is in love with him, though Percival has no idea. Percival is an idealized figure for the other characters, and they each respond deeply to his death, though in different ways.
One of the narrators. Rhoda is introverted, highly sensitive, and almost phobic when it comes to interacting with others. She tends to drift off into her imagination as a means of escaping from social situations, and she comes to feel that her own personality is insubstantial and illusory. Rhoda and Louis become lovers, but Rhoda is terrified of intimacy and leaves him. Eventually Rhoda’s sense of the transience of life and her own desire for unconsciousness lead her to take her own life.
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One of the narrators. Susan hates city life and cannot wait to return home from school to her family farm, where she wants to tend the land and raise children. Susan is an earthy, passionate woman who is highly compelling to men, though not as classically beautiful as Jinny. Susan has an intense relationship with the land and with nature, but her cultivation of this natural bond leads to the suppression of many of her other desires. Susan loves Bernard, for example, but sacrifices any passion of her own for the sake of her family and her place in the cycle of rural life.
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Ace your assignments with our guide to The Waves!