List the characters in Lincoln in the Bardo.

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The ghostly characters within Georgetown cemetery are significant contributors to atmosphere, tone, mood, and setting in the novel. The vast number of characters, whether their backstories are provided or they only have a single line of speech, contribute to the novel's magical realism and the overall feeling of being...

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The ghostly characters within Georgetown cemetery are significant contributors to atmosphere, tone, mood, and setting in the novel. The vast number of characters, whether their backstories are provided or they only have a single line of speech, contribute to the novel's magical realism and the overall feeling of being in a graveyard—in the case of Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by hundreds of spirits. The tone of the novel is solemn and sympathetic, as Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins III, and the Reverend Everly Thomas observe Lincoln's grief over his deceased son and attempt to help Willie exit the bardo. The investment of the ghostly characters into Willie's fate, and the profound grief Lincoln experiences, evokes feeling in the reader, establishing the emotional setting or atmosphere.

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A detailed character list of Lincoln in the Bardo would be a ponderous task. Hundreds of characters populate Saunders’ debut novel (over 150, in fact), many of them ghosts that inhabit the Georgetown cemetery where Abraham Lincoln’s young son, Willie, is buried. Part of the novel is rooted in fact and the rumors that surfaced in its aftermath: after Willie succumbed to typhoid fever at age eleven, Lincoln, devastated by the loss, purportedly visited the tomb to hold his son’s body. The setting takes place during one of his nightly visits.

The spirits, many of whom do not realize they are actually dead, are trapped in something called “the bardo,” which, in Tibetan philosophy, is a liminal space (or limbo) between death and reincarnation. If they cannot accept their individual demises, relinquish their hold on the physical plane, and move on, they will remain eternally in the bardo. This fate is particularly gruesome for children: those who cannot move on remain forever in the bardo, entombed within a carapace of demonic souls and slowly driven insane.

Three characters who first encounter Willie are Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins III, and the Reverend Everly Thomas. Vollman, recently married, died in a freak accident before he could consummate his marriage; Bevins, a homosexual, committed suicide; and the reverend lingers in the bardo for utterly nefarious reasons. Others who occupy the bardo include inebriates who put addiction before family and responsibility, a lovesick teenage girl, and a trio of flying bachelors.

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