The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Bob Slocum reveals himself and all the other characters in the novel through his own tormented consciousness, a tricky decision on Heller’s part because Slocum is essentially unlikable, especially with regard to his perceptions of others. Thus, the novel is filled with characters in whom the reader can find little to admire.
Despite his apparent distaste for the flux of human experience, Slocum is an acute and perceptive observer of those around him, even when he tries to ignore their presence, as he does with Derek, his wife, his daughter, his coworkers, his lovers, and almost everyone whom he encounters at some point in his relationships with them. These observations give the reader an understanding of the book’s other characters—an understanding, however, that is obviously limited and erroneous, the product of what Slocum himself recognizes as a flawed perspective.
Slocum is an insecure and frightened man, perhaps on the verge of a breakdown but ironically also on the verge of his greatest professional success. The reader comes to know of the deep-seated nature of his irrational fears and emotions through Slocum’s own thought process. He analyzes his dreams, his memories, and his past and present experiences in a frank, sometimes brutally honest way. His ego appears to be all-absorbing and all-consuming. Even when his speculation and self-analysis lead him almost to acknowledge that other characters might deserve his (and the...
(The entire section is 976 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Robert (Bob) Slocum
Robert (Bob) Slocum, a middle-level corporate executive in his early forties. He works in New York City and lives with his wife and three children in Connecticut. At his office, Slocum is fearful and cynically prudent in dealing with his superiors. At home, he is often competitive and abrasive with his two older children, or he retreats from them to the isolation of his study. He recalls with enthusiasm his earlier, insatiable lust for his wife, but he feels threatened by her increasing sexual assertiveness, and he scrutinizes her carefully for signs of alcoholism and marital infidelity. Slocum himself is a philanderer who is joyless and emotionally numb with prostitutes and his girlfriends. He is preoccupied with death, disintegration, and fear of the unknown, and he ruminates obsessively on unresolved emotional experiences, such as his adolescent flirtation with a girl who later committed suicide and his neglect of his mother before her death in a nursing home. At the end of the novel, following the death of his nine-year-old son, Slocum is promoted to the head of the sales department.
Slocum’s wife, unnamed, four years younger than Slocum, a tall, slender, well-dressed woman. She is bored and unhappy, and she has recently become a secretive drinker. In the years since marrying Slocum, she has lost self-confidence. She feels unloved by Slocum and their children, and she is...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
Bob Slocum's psyche directs the novel. As Heller explained in an interview with George Plimpton, Something Happened is about Slocum's "interior, psychological survival," in counterpart to Yossarian's exterior, physical survival in Catch-22. There is a war in Slocum's soul. One side of him is the cynical seeker of self-gratification — the sex-obsessed consort of whores, the chooser of promotion over friendship. However, the other side is the mourner of lost innocence — haunted by memories of the little boy inside himself, frustrated by his unfulfilled desire for the allegorical Virginia, and deeply attracted to his oldest son's generosity and ability to love. In one sense Slocum is the consummate corporate man eager to climb the ladder to success; yet conversely in his Happiness Charts he notes that those individuals who most closely identify with the corporation are the least happy, he attacks his company's practices, although participating in them, and he occasionally expresses longings to be powerless. Contradictions in Slocum's character abound. He is both insensitive and tender, concealing and revealing of his narcissism, sexism, and racism. Slocum laments, "The problem is that I don't know who or what I really am"; however, he is often remarkably self-perceptive, particularly in his parenthetical asides. The only consistency in Slocum's character is his paranoia. Heller has admitted that he originally intended Bob Slocum to be despicable but...
(The entire section is 420 words.)