Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The professor

The professor, between fifty and sixty years old, who tutors individual pupils for their “total doctorate” examinations. During a session with a young female student, he is meek at first. He becomes more intense and authoritarian as the lesson advances. Eventually, he becomes irrationally, even absurdly, angry; disallowing any interruptions of his barrage on philology, the old man grows increasingly excited. First, he attacks the student using language as a tool of dominance, power, deception, and, in the end, violent cruelty. Finally, he loses all patience and sinks into a homicidal mania. He aids the maid in disposing of the student’s body.

The pupil

The pupil, an eighteen-year-old woman wearing a gray student’s smock with a small white collar and carrying a student’s bookbag. A new student of this professor, the young lady is hopeful of passing a “total doctorate” exam and has engaged the professor as a tutor. As the lesson progresses, she displays an absurd lack of elementary knowledge, such as the capital of France and the seasons of the year; she can add and multiply but is unable to subtract. Faced with what appears to be a remorseless and ominous personal attack, this pupil develops a toothache that eventually spreads over her entire body. Midway through the lesson, she unexpectedly musters enough courage and composure to defy the professor—without success. Reduced to an aching...

(The entire section is 408 words.)