Study Guide

The Ask

by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask Characters

Characters

Milo Burke

A person of middle-class resources, Milo Burke once aspired to be a great painter but failed to achieve his dream. He lives in New York City working as a development officer (fund raiser) at a mediocre university, raising a young son with his wife Maura until he is fired from his job and discovers that his wife is having an affair.

Milo struggles to cope with the disappointing mediocrity of his life as it compares to the dreams he once had. Though he is employable and witty, Milo is morally incapable of getting what he wants out of life, a trait displayed at every turn of his story. 

A man estranged from those closest to him, with the exception of his son Bernie, Milo experiences is given a chance to redeem himself by helping a wealthy former friend from his days in college. He succeeds in the task yet does not achieve the results for which he had hoped. 

Bitterness and disillusionment are the hallmarks of Milo’s persona.

Bernie

Bernie is the four-year-old son of Milo and Maura. Bright and trusting, Bernie is a figure of innocence as well as innocent judgment in The Ask. When Milo tells Bernie that he loves him, Bernie responds by saying that he loves Paul, the man with whom Milo’s wife is carrying on an affair.

Bernie does not withhold his affections from his father, but does challenge Milo to be a better, stronger person as a parent in order to deal with the innocent and obvious truth of his life. He does this by repeating the things that Milo might say, picking up adult phrases, and asking questions that point out exactly the things that Milo would like to avoid. 

Purdy

Coming from a wealthy family, Purdy presents himself as a self-made man. He tells people that he has made his own money, a fact which is only partially true.

Purdy is quite wealthy in addition to being intelligent, motivated and brave. While in college, Purdy befriends Milo and the two share...

(The entire section is 810 words.)