The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Little Red Garlock, a violent and possibly retarded young man, is the product of Hammond’s underclass. He has been badly brought up by his racist mother, whose life is one of squalor and mental instability.
Duke Courtney has an addictive personality over which he has little control. Duke’s name suggests his identity as a “sporting gent” and inveterate gambler. This identity eventually takes precedence over his responsibilities as a husband and father.
Persia Courtney, the wife of Duke, was once a “golden girl” but has fallen on hard times. Persia is a free spirit whose name evokes the Orient, which in the Western imagination also links her to the irrational and the unconscious. She carries an aura of the erotic and the exotic, but she is often intoxicated, and she eventually succumbs to insanity and alcohol. Oates uses Persia to comment on Iris’s identity—there is a “Persia” side to her character. Mother and daughter both become involved with a black man; both are drawn toward forbidden love and out-of-bounds behavior.
Iris Courtney is the daughter of Duke and Persia. There are two sides to her personality. On the surface, she is a high achiever and a good girl; underneath is an overheated world of fear and desire. She papers over this side of herself with an agreeable persona. As a result, she becomes increasingly false and duplicitous; her outer being does not bear any resemblance to her inner self. Her name...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Iris Courtney, the daughter of troubled parents. She is a striving young teenager determined to move up in the world. On the surface, she is a good student and a happy, normal teenager; underneath is a roiling, overheated inner world of desires and compulsions. She papers over this side of herself with an agreeable persona, but as a result she becomes increasingly false and duplicitous; her outer being does not bear any resemblance to the churning libidinous, even suicidal, secret self. After the murder of Little Red Garlock by Jinx Fairchild, who has been drawn into the role of Iris’ protector, she develops an obsessional erotic attachment to Jinx, and possibly to black men in general, which she keeps hidden from the outside world. Iris’ name is ironic because she is not the fragile flower she appears to be. Using her strength, her intellect, and a single-minded ruthlessness, Iris moves up the social and economic ladder. She crosses into affluent America and will marry the patrician son of one of her college professors, but this success seems to have been purchased at the expense of her sexual feelings. In spite of her sweet good looks and surface charm, her continued duplicity makes her surprisingly bitter and cynical.
Jinx Fairchild, a teenager from a struggling black family who has a chance to succeed in the respectable white world. He is a star high school basketball player, but...
(The entire section is 744 words.)
Iris Courtney and Jinx Fairchild are mirror characters. They are both placed into social classes that have not been empowered by education or money, and both sense themselves as different from others in their social class. It is this sense of difference that draws them together. Iris's advantage is that she is white, while Jinx's is that he is male, but their respective disadvantages victimize them. Iris is a survivor, but at the expense of her capacity for emotion and honesty, while Jinx probably dies in the Vietnam War. One of Jinx's last acts is to send Iris a photograph of himself, taken by her uncle, an act that Oates uses to suggest that Iris should remember the violent and bitter event that connected her to a part of life she may be trying to ignore in her comfortable marriage.
Most of the other characters in Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart are defined by the family to which they belong. Iris's parents, Duke and Persia Courtney, play Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers roles until their lifestyle spirals downward from middle-class standards. Leslie Courtney, Duke's brother who loves Persia, succeeds with his photography and remains in the middle class, perhaps because he uses photography to shape his vision of what he wishes life to be rather than solely for commercial purposes. Jinx Fairchild's family reveals the same kind of pressures to succeed and the same kind of misguided notions about how to do it as Iris's family. His...
(The entire section is 343 words.)