Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bruno A.

Bruno A., called the Son, who in 1938 is a twelve-year-old schoolboy. He looks on helplessly and with only partial comprehension as his family and their comfortable existence fall to pieces in a world of jarring anti-Semitism. Aching for love and warmth from his estranged parents, the boy has intimations of decay and doom that intensify as he is shunted from provincial home to country resort and back again. In the second part of the novel, he is a middle-aged man. He returns to confront childhood ghosts after the breakup of his marriage in Jerusalem.


Father, an Austrian writer and literary critic. His successes bring joy neither to him nor to his family. A tired, absentminded, surly man, he succumbs to bitterness and paranoia as he is attacked for the sickly Jewish spirit of his writing. His hatred of petit bourgeois Jews and raggedOstjuden (Eastern European Jews) is second only to his fear of being regarded as one of them. As anti-Semitism blocks his career and destroys his self-respect, he soothes his soul with alcohol and impossible dreams of a literary and cultural renaissance. This delusion leads him to abandon his family for a baroness in Vienna.


Mother, a tall, tight-lipped, unhappy woman. She bears her husband’s physical and spiritual distance in stoic fashion and strives to preserve an atmosphere of normalcy and dignity even as Jewishness makes her family an object of derision and loathing. A woman with strong philanthropic impulses, she devotes herself frantically to charitable institutions as her personal life deteriorates. After her...

(The entire section is 679 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Bruno as a boy and his parents and relatives are upper-class, cultivated Central European Jews who regard themselves as comfortably assimilated, with their Judaism only a marginal quirk in their characters. Traditional, religious Eastern Jews are exotic and barbaric specimens to them.

History soon smashes their illusions. Bruno, in the first book, is a sensitive, silent, but increasingly anguished observer of a society that degrades as well as disintegrates. In book 2, he is the age his father is in book 1 and has his own failed marriage—for unspecified reasons. He finds himself a stranger in his birthplace, revisiting a childhood traumatized by circumstances that cannot be expunged.

Bruno’s mother is tender, weak, charitable, conventional, ineffectual. When the town’s rabbi, following official orders, sends registered letters to all members of the Jewish community to come to his temple on a specified day, the mother asks, “What have I to do with them?” Once inside, she brandishes her umbrella at hostile neighbors and hisses, “Shopkeepers!”

The father is a prototype of the European artist as disdainful intellectual. Despising his fellow Jews, he regards himself as an Austrian luminary, with German his native tongue and Hebrew foreign to him. “Haven’t I brought honor to Austria?” he asks jeering Gentile riders in a train compartment. When a distant relative in South America invites the family to resettle there, since Jews are not overtly hated in his land, the father feels insulted that he should be asked to go into business—no respect for the artistic life there, he rages, only for money, property, and survival above all! He tries to survive in his way by abandoning not only his family but also his heritage. His failure as husband, father, and Jew is accompanied by the growing acuity of Bruno’s desolate awareness.