Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Henry Miller, the narrative consciousness of the novel, a somewhat transformed, semiautobiographical elaboration of the author. He is a man of indeterminate middle age, an indigent, aspiring writer who is visiting Europe to escape from the conditions of life in the United States, which he believes are responsible for his artistic and economic failures. After trying to conform to the conventional rules and requirements of middle-class society in America, he is struggling to survive as a kind of underground man in the bohemian realms of Paris. Convinced that his true nature has been suppressed by his failed attempts at various mundane jobs and two marriages, he has recast himself as an artist/hero, a rebel, and a kind of gangster of erotic aggression. He is mostly appetite, for both sex and food. Although it is not as immediately apparent, he is also a man of feeling and sensitivity. He is essentially an observer; he demonstrates his kinship with the historical tradition of great art in Paris through his extremely inventive use of language, employing verbal styles of expression charged with the energy of the anger and joy with which he confronts everything. His spirit remains strong in the midst of conditions that crush nearly everyone else with whom he associates. His heartfelt tributes to the subtle beauties of the city, its architecture, and its rivers and streets register his deeper, more humane and more gentle side. As he progresses...
(The entire section is 693 words.)
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The first-person narrator of Tropic of Cancer is really its only character. All of the "people" Miller describes are alive only in those moments that they are in the narrator's company. They are primarily sketches of attitudes, something like medieval humours, and they are seen entirely from the outside. Some of them are quite striking as caricature, particularly Van Norden, a portrait of the nonspiritual man as mechanical monster who is something of a psychic double for Miller's worst impulses. The closest thing to a real "character" is the city itself (Miller originally called his manuscript Paris and Me) and the most appealing human "characters" Miller meets are "alive" in the spirit of their art, like Matisse. The female "characters" are all especially dreadful cliches of a misguided, discredited male attitude toward sex which Miller uses to show the narrator's limited conditions of perception.
(The entire section is 144 words.)