Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561
To please Sarah when he was courting her, teenaged Macon adopted a cool and mysterious façade. Somehow, although he was never comfortable in the role, he became trapped by the persona he had created, unable even at his son’s death to provide comfort or receive it from Sarah. Even before Ethan’s death, however, Macon had difficulty finding meaning in his life, relying, therefore, on “systems” and routine to provide order and stability, if not happiness. Although he writes travel books, Macon despises travel, invariably longing for the routines of home. With Sarah and Ethan gone, however, even his routines fail to soothe him, and Macon slides into depression.
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Muriel, one of Tyler’s most memorable characters, is a flamboyantly dressed, unpredictable, and resourceful young woman. After a brief early marriage, she works at an assortment of unconventional jobs to support her seven-year-old son Alexander, whom she alternately coddles and ignores. When she pursues Macon, he is swept along by her strength into a world that seems both exotic and appealing. Through Muriel, Macon is drawn into a world of women: Muriel’s sister, her friends, and her neighbors. As Muriel successfully trains Edward, Macon is also nurtured and strengthened. She is the catalyst through which a happier, more emotionally satisfied man emerges.
Edward is given rare depth and provides the novel with some of its best comic moments. As Macon’s emotional state deteriorates, Edward, who was also traumatized by Ethan’s death, is increasingly aggressive. He becomes a nuisance at best and a menace at worst. He is, however, unfailingly amusing.
The Leary siblings, Charles, Porter, Macon, and Rose, were somber and orderly as children and frequently dismayed by their widowed mother, who virtually worshipped change for its own sake. Stodgy even as children, the Learys were unnerved by their mother’s enthusiasm for life. After marrying a traveling engineer, she sent her children to Baltimore to live with her parents, two “thin, severe,” and “distinguished” people of whom the children immediately approved. The Leary siblings are firmly rooted in Tyler’s tradition of idiosyncratic and eccentric characters. Afflicted with “geographic dyslexia,” unable to avoid getting lost on the most routine trips, they dread any foray into the outside world. They are wrapped in a safe cocoon where even the ringing telephone is ignored.
Rose, unlike her divorced brothers Charles and Porter, never married. She has chosen instead to remain in the house, caring for her brothers and the many elderly neighbors who call upon her for everything from chauffeuring to plumbing. Yet Rose’s fundamental dissatisfaction is evident in her nearly obsessive attention to an afternoon soap opera. While Charles and Porter remain static throughout The Accidental Tourist, providing a backdrop against which the others’ transformations can be gauged, Rose’s life changes when she meets Julian.
Although initially amused by the eccentric Macon, Julian becomes infatuated with Rose and with the hominess of the life she has created. In his mid-thirties, he is two years younger than Rose; like her, he has never married. Instead, he lives in a singles apartment, dresses nattily, frequents singles bars, and spends his leisure sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. He is the sort, according to Macon, who makes purchases without the use of Consumer Reports. Rose and Julian’s romance provides some of the novel’s most comic moments.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514
Macon Leary, the protagonist and narrator. Macon Leary works as a travel writer for a series of books each containing “The Accidental Tourist” in the title. He hates traveling, but he enjoys writing about travel because he can manipulate descriptions into neatly controlled paragraphs. This need to control everything becomes more obsessive. Eventually, Macon withdraws from the world around him when he loses his son and his wife.
Sarah Leary, Macon Leary’s wife. Sarah is an English teacher who listened to rock music in the “old days” to keep up with her students. According to Macon, she is sloppy and disorganized. She is at first amused by Macon’s systems and finds his moods mysterious, but when their son Ethan dies, she becomes tired of Macon’s orderliness. She looks to Macon for comfort, and when Macon cannot comfort her, she leaves him to grieve on her own.
Ethan Leary, Macon and Sarah Leary’s twelve-year-old son. Although he is not an active character in the novel, his violent and mindless death is what finally ends his parents’ already strained marriage. He is described as a trusting child who loved people; when nervous, he would bounce on the balls of his feet.
Edward, Ethan’s nervous and temperamental Welsh Corgi. After Ethan dies, Edward starts to turn on Macon’s family and friends. He gets harder to control as the novel progresses, and Macon is forced to seek help.
Muriel Pritchett, an extremely vibrant woman who works three jobs to support her son. She works as a self-employed errand girl, at The Meow-Bow Animal Hospital, and as a dog trainer. She is outspoken and fiercely independent. She first convinces Macon to hire her to train Edward, then actively pursues him as a father for her ten-year-old son, Alexander.
Rose Leary, the youngest of the Leary clan. Rose acts as a mother to her three older brothers. She cooks, cleans, and alphabetizes the kitchen so that the Leary system will function smoothly. Although Rose is in her thirties, she wears dresses that make her appear much older. She is more active than her brothers. She helps the elderly neighbors by bringing them meals and taking them grocery shopping.
Charles Leary, the oldest of the Leary brothers. He works in the family machine factory. He is divorced and childless. He is described as having a childish face. He lives in the Leary house and enjoys playing a card game called Patience that only the Leary family understands.
Porter Leary, Macon’s older brother. He is the best looking of the Leary brothers. He is also divorced, and he has three children, a sixteen-year-old boy and two girls. He works in the machine factory with Charles.
Julian Edge, Macon Leary’s boss. He is in his thirties and lives in a singles apartment complex. He meets Rose when he visits the Leary home, and he falls in love with her. He is disorganized, and his cluttered office reflects this.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352
The same eccentric, quirky characters that appear in all Anne Tyler's works also appear in The Accidental Tourist. From Macon Leary's sister, Rose, who alphabetizes her kitchen, placing allspice next to ant poison, to Muriel Pritchett, who faces down robbers and Dobermans in her stiletto heels and shiny eye shadow, the novel is filled with memorable, endearing characters. Even Edward, the dog, has a distinctive personality as he reacts to disruption in his life with the anger and violence Macon would never consider.
Macon Leary is like his logo, a winged armchair, in that he dreams of traveling but stays put. He writes travel books that tell people how to find home in a foreign environment — such as, how to find the Taco Bell, if there is one, in Mexico City. His systems and energy-saving methods would be laughable if he were not so miserable. Tyler is careful to establish that Macon is not the cold person his outward demeanor leads others to believe he is. His memories of his son, Ethan, senselessly killed in a holdup reveal deep love and sorrow and show his potential to live more fully.
Muriel Pritchett is a different kind of character for Tyler. She is one of Tyler's few women who does not expect she will be taken care of. A strong, independent character, her feistiness is admirable. Like Macon imagines himself to be, she is inventive, acknowledging that there is a trick to getting through life. She describes herself as good at spotting a chance — for herself and for Macon. But unlike Macon, her tricks are not intended to help her escape experiencing life.
Macon's wife, Sarah, seems his opposite at first — sociable and happily disorganized, and she leaves Macon because she fears she is becoming like him. Her anger at her son's killer and her growing sense that people are generally evil rather than good distresses her; she fears her experience of things will become, as she says Macon's are, "muffled." Because she is a sympathetic character, the choice Macon must make between her and Muriel demonstrates that every decision has a cost.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1621
Macon's curious neighbor who comes to Rose's house looking for Macon. He watches Macon's house and reports back to him about Muriel coming over and his water pipes bursting.
Muriel's father. When Macon and Muriel spend Christmas with the Dugans, Boyd stays silent until the talk turns to cars.
Muriel's teenage sister. Claire often stays at Muriel's when she fights with her parents, whom she considers too strict.
Muriel's mother. At Christmas she ignores Alexander and embarrasses Muriel by talking about her past relationships. She embarrasses Macon by asking him what his intentions are toward her daughter. She has apparently always been highly critical of Muriel, who tries to gain her approval.
Julian publishes Macon's books. Tyler reveals Julian through Macon's point of view, which, based on Julian's interactions with others, seems credible. Macon considers him to be "athletic looking" and "younger ... brashier, [and] breezier" than he is: "Julian's heart was not in the Businessman's Press but out on the Chesapeake Bay someplace." Macon decides Julian is not "entirely real," that "he has never truly grown up" because he has "never had anything happen to him" including having children. Julian "never seem[s] to have a moment's self doubt." He appears to be open-minded when he readily accepts Macon's relationship with Muriel. His one weakness, however, is his fear of being alone, which probably prompts him to become interested in Macon's sister, Rose. After he and Rose marry, Julian begins to have things "happen to him" when Rose decides to move back in with her brothers so she can take care of them. Julian feels vulnerable and turns to Macon for advice.
Ethan's dog. Macon keeps him when Sarah leaves. Edward figures prominently in Macon's relationship with Muriel. First he causes them to meet at the Meow Bow where Muriel works; then his erratic behavior at Rose's prompts Macon to hire Muriel to train him. Finally after Macon moves in with Muriel, Edward is the first to bond with her son, Alexander.
Macon's mother. As a "giddy young war widow," Alicia had little time for her children when they lived with her in California. When she did spend time with them, her enthusiasm disturbed them since it "came in spurts, a violent zigzag of hobbies, friends, boyfriends, causes. She always seemed about to fall over the brink of something. She was always going too far ... The faster she talked and the brighter her eyes grew, the more fixedly her children stared at her, as if willing her to follow their example of steadiness and dependability." After she remarried, she sent her children to live with their grandparents in Baltimore and saw them rarely after that. When she did "dart in and out of their lives," like "some naughty, gleeful fairy," the children considered her too "flashy" and too "vivid."
Charles is Macon's brother, "a soft sweet-faced man who never seemed to move." He and his brother Porter took over Grandfather Leary's business when he died. Since Charles was "more mechanical," he dealt with the production end of the business. After his marriage failed, he moved in with Rose and fell into the same comforting family routine they practiced as children. While he usually keeps to himself, when Macon moves in with Muriel, Charles interferes. He tells Macon that something must be wrong with him since Muriel is not his "type of woman" and that she is "not worth it."
Macon's and Sarah's son who is seen only through their memories of him. He was shot and killed by a teenager at a fast-food restaurant while at summer camp. His loss profoundly affects both of his parents.
Macon's grandfather, seen only through flashbacks. He owned a manufacturing company that he passed down to his grandsons. He and Macon's grandmother were "two thin, severe, distinguished people in dark clothes." He helped raise the children after their mother remarried.
The novel's main character, a middle-aged man trying to cope with the death of his son and the subsequent shattering of his world. Macon writes a series of guidebooks for business people who, like him, hate to travel. When he is forced to, he does so "with his eyes shut and holding his breath and hanging on for dear life." Yet Macon likes "the virtuous delights of organizing a disorganized country." He also tries to organize his life in an effort to understand and to control it and to "ward off danger."
One such effort however, his invention of the Macon Leary Body Bag, comes to symbolize his growing isolation from the outside world. He admits that "gatherings of any sort depressed him. Physical contact with people not related to him ... made him draw inward like a snail." As a result, he has become "a fairly chilly man." His wife, Sarah, notes his withdrawal, telling him he has given up on everything—"everything that might touch you or upset you or disrupt you." She observes, "There's something so muffled about the way you experience things ... You're encased. You're like something in a capsule. You're a dried up kernel of a man that nothing real penetrates."
With Muriel's and Alexander's help, however, Macon gains the courage to come out of his protective shell. With her, he becomes "an entirely different person ... [one] who had never been suspected of narrowness ... of chilliness ... and was anything but orderly." By the end of the novel, Macon takes control of his life and makes the decision to become an active participant in the world.
Macon's brother. Porter was considered the best looking of all the Learys. He was also "the most practical man Macon had ever known. He gave an impression of vitality and direction that his brothers lacked." Like Macon and Charles, Porter "always had to have everything just so ... always clamping down on the world as if [he] really thought [he] could keep it in line."
Rose is Macon's sister. She lives with and takes care of his two brothers. Rose is as organized as her brothers, as evidenced by her kitchen, which she has completely alphabetized. There seems to be "something vague about her that caused her brothers to act put-upon and needy whenever she chanced to focus on them." When she marries Julian, she appears to be finding a sense of self, but she soon moves back in with her brothers in order to return to her safe, orderly life. She and Julian eventually reunite when she takes over his office and reorganizes it.
Sarah, Macon's wife, leaves him because he is not a "comfort" to her after the death of their son, Ethan. Feeling oppressed by Macon's tendency to withdraw from the world, Sarah decides she needs a place of her own. Before Ethan died, she had been a social person, but now she "[doesn't] like crowds anymore." When Macon asks her to come back to him, she explains, "Ever since Ethan died I've had to admit that people are basically bad." She decides to leave him because she knows that he has always believed this. This pessimism, along with the acknowledgment that she too is retreating from the world, scares her and prompts her decision to divorce Macon. She tells him, "I don't have enough time left to waste it holing up in my shell." When she and Macon reconcile, she continually finds fault with the same "little routines and rituals, depressing habits, day after day" that he exhibited before she left him.
Porter's daughter. Susan accompanies Macon on a trip to Philadelphia and reminisces with him about Ethan.
Alexander is Muriel's son. When Macon first sees him he appears to be "small, white, [and] sickly ... with a shaved-looking skull." Alexander is a lonely boy, ostracized by his peers, due in part to Muriel's overprotective mothering. She determines that he has allergies to just about everything and so restricts his diet and activities. Macon decides that "school never went very well" for Alexander, since he often comes home "with his face more pinched than ever, his glasses thick with fingerprints." Alexander, however, thrives under Macon's care.
Macon begins a relationship with Muriel after Sarah leaves him. Tyler presents Muriel through Macon's point of view, which ultimately reveals all aspects of her personality, since his opinion of her continually changes. Muriel detects his fickleness when she tells him, "One minute you like me and the next you don't. One minute you're ashamed to be seen with me and the next you think I'm the best thing that ever happened to you." Muriel has "a voice that wander[s] too far in all directions" and she "talks nonstop." Macon notes her "long, narrow nose, and sallow skin, and two freckled knobs of collarbone that promised an unluxurious body." Muriel has on occasion a "nasty temper, a shrewish tongue, and a tendency to fall into spells of self-disgust from which no one could rouse her for hours." Finally, her parenting skills are inconsistent: "One minute overprotective, the next callous and offhand."
She is obviously intelligent. The quality Macon admires the most is "her fierceness, her spiky, pugnacious fierceness as she fought her way toward the camera with her chin set awry and her eyes bright slits of determination." Muriel fights for everything she wants, including Macon. Unlike Sarah, Muriel does not try to change Macon, yet her openness and acceptance enables him to emerge from his protective shell.
A teenager who lives in Muriel's neighborhood. He fixes her car and babysits Alexander. He dies suddenly in an accident while driving Muriel's car.