Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 634
Lucy Starr, a forty-two-year-old educational consultant, teacher, and social activist. Lucy is the reader’s point-of-view character for most of the novel, excepting those elements told through Theodore’s interior monologue. Lucy is a member of the cultured, highly educated, white upper middle class whose social and political liberalism dominated the major cities of the Northeast for many years. Lucy has been successful in her career, but her personal life remains oddly unresolved. A committed, self-conscious liberal flourishing amid the upheavals of the 1960’s, Lucy finds all of her certainties jeopardized by the sudden entrance into her life of two disparate individuals, Berndt Hoffman and Theodore. Lucy is altruistic and well-intentioned; she is inspired by ethical ideals stemming from deep moral convictions that perhaps developed in connection with her Jewish ethnic background. Lucy has trouble understanding what she really wants in life. The tensions between her public and private goals are illustrated by the way she employs her personal relationships as comments on the racial and cultural divisions within the United States of her era. Lucy is a good person and does not mean to hurt anyone or hurt herself, and her motives in abducting Theodore come from nothing but the highest ideals. Because of her essential confusion, she often ends up in situations beyond her control.
Theodore, a ten-and-a-half-year-old African American boy who is kidnapped by Lucy Starr. He grew up in an underprivileged background in the ghettos of Washington, D.C. His family is originally from the rural South. His father is dead, and his mother has abandoned him, leaving him to be brought up by his Aunt Alberta. Theodore is precocious and intelligent, and his family and school are inadequate for him, considering his potential. He is too young, though, to understand that Lucy has abducted him from his family and to comprehend the motives for the action. Theodore has a unique and spirited intelligence, and he is the focal point of the novel.
Berndt Hoffmann, a German-born college professor who has an affair with Lucy Starr. His identity was formed during World War II, in which he was too young to fight on the German side. Ruthless, assured, charismatic, and able to seduce women easily, Berndt seems to provide the authoritative presence that will be the solution to Lucy’s myriad emotional dilemmas, but he is in fact unreliable (a fact portended by his infidelity to his wife, Susan) and sadistic. He seizes on Lucy’s vulnerabilities and fails to supply her with anything loving and permanent in return.
Aunt Alberta, Theodore’s aunt. Alberta epitomizes the older woman who often is the glue of impoverished urban families. She is probably the only person who loves Theodore for himself. She occasionally feels overwhelmed and fears that she cannot give him all he needs.
Dan Gibbs, an African American man whom Lucy Starr meets in the context of her work with the Washington, D.C., educational system. There is an erotic interest between Dan and Lucy, tempered by the racial taboos still lingering in this era. Unlike Berndt, Dan cares about Lucy’s welfare and wants to do something to help her in her psychological crisis.
Mrs. Poston, Theodore’s teacher in the fifth grade. A pillar of the educational establishment, she represents the “business as usual” approach to Theodore’s upbringing that is one of the motivating factors behind Lucy’s abduction of him.
Cindy Starr, Lucy’s daughter by her marriage to Mortimer Starr, a Jewish intellectual. Cindy lives in Germany as a student with a boyfriend, Dieter. Although Cindy and Lucy love each other, there is tension in their relationship. Cindy is more assured and self-confident than her mother, and this creates distance between them.
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