Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews March 8, 2024
March 1, 2024
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
Narrator 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 strength.
Read an in-depth analysis of Jack Gladney
Jack’s 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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Babette
Jack’s 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.
Project 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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Willie Mink
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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Murray Jay Siskind
Jack’s German teacher. Solitary and taciturn, Howard lives in the same boardinghouse as Murray.
Jack’s 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.
Babette’s 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.
Heinrich’s 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.
Babette’s 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.
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.
Babette’s 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 he leaves.
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.
Jack’s 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.
Jack’s 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 identity.
Jack’s 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.
Jack’s 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.
Babette’s all-American ex-husband.
A convicted killer serving time in a penitentiary. Heinrich plays chess with Tommy Roy Foster via mail.
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 shopping mall.
Sister of Old Man Treadwell. She dies soon after she and her brother get lost in a shopping mall for several days.
A local psychic, called in by the police to help find the missing Treadwell siblings.