Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Alexander Portnoy, a Jewish man from Newark, New Jersey, who has “made good” as a bright college student and has become assistant commissioner for human opportunities in New York City. Throughout his life, however, he has been afflicted by a domineering mother, an intolerable sense of guilt, and an urgent sex drive. Intelligent and witty, he struggles to become free but succeeds mostly in engaging his family, his lovers, and himself in situations characterized by mutual vilification and sadomasochism that exacerbate rather than ameliorate his condition. He relates all of his adventures to his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel, who provides the vehicle for the wild and often hilarious stories that disguise the real anguish he feels while living “in the middle of a Jewish joke,” as he calls his life.
Sophie Portnoy, Alexander’s mother. She cannot begin to understand her son, whom she nearly smothers with care, concern, and relentless nudging. The archetypal Jewish mother, she is the source of Alex’s Oedipal complex, which he eventually recognizes but seems unable to deal with effectively. Both nurturer and devourer, she simultaneously threatens and encourages her son throughout his childhood, and she looms persistently in his life thereafter.
Jack (Jake) Portnoy
Jack (Jake) Portnoy, Alexander’s father, an insurance salesman. He is hardworking, long-suffering, and chronically constipated; he devotes his life to his family. He frequently quarrels with Alex about getting into the bathroom (where Alex is busy masturbating) to try his luck at moving his bowels. His constipation is symbolic of his frustrations as husband, father, and Jewish American wage earner. It is the Sunday morning ball games with his father and their male friends that Alex recalls later in life as among the most pleasurable times of his boyhood.
Hannah Portnoy, Alex’s older...
(The entire section is 822 words.)
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