The characters are unable to readjust to living in a society
where others not involved in the Holocaust go about their lives in
a trivial manner. Those who survived the Holocaust will never be
able to love since they can no longer have the faith and trust a
person needs to truly love another person. Their relationships are
obsessive and destructive because they have been scarred for the
rest of their lives.
Herman Broder, the main character, survived in a hayloft of a
non-Jewish, Polish servant, Yadwiga, who he later marries in
America. He has no idea of what happened to Tamara, his wife, and
believes she is dead. Once in America, he has an affair with Masha,
another Holocaust survivor, and marries her when she gets a
divorce. He ends up married to the three women in his life,
when Tamara, alive and well, shows up in New York. Herman
loses his faith in God and drops out of activities in his
community. He becomes a cheat, a swindler, and a liar. He tries to
escape reality through his multiple marriages and his isolation
from participating in society.
Herman's first wife, Tamara, has also turned against her faith
and is now involved with Communism, Zionism, and feminism. Her
escape is to involve herself in so many causes that she won't have
time to consider what has happened.
Masha, a Holocaust survivor also, is a prostitute and a cheat.
She pretends to be pregnant to get Herman to marry her. Her
inability to escape reality leads her to suicide.