Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Gary Gilmore, the protagonist, a convicted murderer executed at the age of thirty-five for two brutal, unprovoked murders. Gilmore is a rough-featured criminal who has spent most of his life in prison. He is highly intelligent, with an artistic bent. He also has quasi-religious convictions. A complicated person, he shows little remorse for his crimes but insists that the state of Utah execute him for the murders he committed, even though he clearly is afraid to die. Gilmore’s steadfast request that his death sentence be carried out makes him the focus of enormous publicity.
Nicole Baker Barrett
Nicole Baker Barrett, Gilmore’s nineteen-year-old lover. She is a beautiful woman who already has been married twice. She does not seem to know how to control her life. She is nearly as self-destructive as Gilmore and almost succeeds in killing herself after she and Gilmore make a suicide pact. Although Gilmore manipulates her in various ways, there is no question that he loves her and that they share a bond that cannot be broken by his imprisonment. Nicole becomes Gilmore’s inspiration, his reason for writing more than a thousand pages explaining his feelings about her and about his life.
Brenda Nicol, Gilmore’s good-hearted cousin who helps to get him released from prison shortly before the period in which he kills two men. Brenda believes that if she can...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Executioner's Song Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Characters / Techniques
It is most unusual for Mailer to have his characters reveal themselves almost entirely through dialogue. Descriptions of characters are succinct and lack Mailer's typical floridity. Instead, the author reports what could be clearly heard and observed — as befits a book that was assembled from hours and hours of taped interviews with the individuals involved with Gilmore's case. Each character is scrupulously created out of his own words. Although much about Gilmore is repugnant, he becomes attractive and even heroic in his effort to preserve some part of his complex, tortured self from the confusions of the gross publicity that attended his determination to be executed. To some extent, he is able to articulate himself, and his attempt to define his own nature nearly raises him to a tragic stature that the other saner characters cannot approach. A conventional biography that presented a chronological narrative of Gilmore's life would have flattened the dramatic contours of the character Mailer has created. Although The Executioner's Song is a very long book, it is not burdened and congested with the psychological and social data that often defeats modern biography, preventing it from attaining the clarity of personality that Mailer achieves.
(The entire section is 197 words.)