The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters of Gilbert Sorrentino are not realistic but instead represent fictional conventions. In Mulligan Stew, Sorrentino opposes the idea of characters as whole, autonomous subjects and makes the point that each is simply a creation of language. Antony Lamont is a dramatized figure of the author who loses control of his book. He is not so much a portrait of the conventional author as a parody of him. At one point, Halpin speaks two parts, his own and Beaumont’s, since Beaumont has left the novel because of Lamont’s incompetence. Yet his words were supposedly written by Lamont, so in effect he is being Lamont as well. Meanwhile, the reader is aware that all three are fictitious figures tangled together in the artificial language of the book.

The characters are revealed primarily by their own words, which are spoken in dialogue or written in letters or journals. Lamont reveals himself in his novels, letters, journals, and scrapbook, but in addition, readers have the attitudes of other characters toward him, as indicated in their letters. Lamont’s own created characters, Halpin and Beaumont, complain about his writing and work habits. Although the reader agrees with their assessment of Lamont, when Halpin is talking about fellow characters in the novel Guinea Red, there is a certain irony between his view and the reader’s. It seems that when Halpin speaks the lines written by Lamont, he is mistaken, but when he speaks his...

(The entire section is 545 words.)