The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In Nickel Mountain, Gardner’s skillful manipulation of point of view carries the burden of characterization. Although the novel is written in the third person, the majority of its chapters are constructed around single and identifiable centers of consciousness. Each of the characters central to the action of the novel serves as the organizing point of view for its different sections. By tempering the conventions of the pastoral (Nickel Mountain is subtitled “A Pastoral Novel”) with the ability of the novel form to accommodate competing points of view, Gardner develops principal characters who are neither idealized nor sentimentalized.

The first of the novel’s eight titled sections is narrated from Henry’s perspective. Desperately lonely and preoccupied with his heart condition, Henry is a terrified man who passionately confesses his fears to whomever he corners in his diner. Far from affording him any relief, such outbursts to strangers and casual acquaintances leave him shocked and humiliated by their impropriety and violence; more often than not, after making his apologies, he finds himself sobbing, with his head on his counter. The novel’s third section, “The Edge of the Woods,” primarily concerned with Callie’s complicated delivery, is also mediated through Henry’s agitated consciousness. Through his marriage to Callie, Henry has begun the affirmative work of spiritual renovation, but the carefully controlled point of view, limiting itself to Henry’s perceptions of the events going on around him, underlines how much Henry is still an alienated and...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Nickel Mountain Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Henry Soames

Henry Soames, forty-one years old, the owner of the Stop-Off diner located in the Catskill Mountains. His heart condition is the result of his being ninety pounds overweight, but his hunger for food is outstripped by his hunger for talk and companionship. His streak of violence and self-destructiveness is offset by his huge meaningless love of humankind. “Caught up in the buzzing, blooming confusion,” Henry believes that every person must find something worth being crucified for—in Henry’s case, his wife and son and his community of friends, neighbors, and customers. Although he admits that life may be accidental rather than ordered, he nevertheless chooses to believe in the useful fiction of personal responsibility.

Calliope (Callie) Wells

Calliope (Callie) Wells, who is sixteen years old when she comes to work at the Stop-Off as a means of making enough money to move to New York. Made pregnant and then abandoned by her boyfriend, she accepts Henry’s offer of marriage, though not without misgivings. Welsh in background, she is sharp-boned and practical. As Henry’s wife, she transforms the diner into a family restaurant called The Maples. She also changes Henry, making him into what in fact he has always been. Under Henry’s influence, Callie undergoes a similar change.


Jimmy, their son.

Willard Freund

Willard Freund, Jimmy’s natural father. A romantic and idealist, Willard sees Henry both as a friend and as a father who encourages him to realize his ambitions. Willard’s actual father exerts quite a different influence, convincing Willard to give up both his dreams and Callie (and therefore his responsibilities). Estranged not only from Henry, Callie, his son Jimmy, and the area around Nickel Mountain but also from his own better self, he becomes cynical until, during a Christmas break from college, he is welcomed back by Henry, who has managed to overcome his own fears and self-doubts concerning the return of his former friend, his son’s father, and his wife’s former lover.

S. J. Kuzitski

S. J. Kuzitski, a Russian (or perhaps Polish) junk dealer. A lonely drunk, he spends many nights at the Stop-Off, listening to Henry’s ranting. He dies when his truck goes off the road and burns.


(The entire section is 967 words.)