The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

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The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.

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.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Macon Leary

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

Sarah Leary, Macon...

(The entire section is 3,048 words.)