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.)
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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 his sports nickname is also a metaphor for his unlucky life, which takes a terrible turn when he is impressed into defending Iris Courtney against Little Red Garlock’s repulsive sexual advances. Although, like Iris, Jinx never reveals his role in the murder to the police, the crime has a serious effect on him. He cannot trust the white community of Hammond...
(The entire section is 744 words.)