The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

There is only one “real” character in the book—Rojack himself, and he is less a fully rounded figure than a modern-day equivalent of the mythic hero who seeks some kind of primitive or existential freedom and, thus, self-identity. The problem of responding to Rojack’s character is that one can either see him as heroic figure, bravely daring to break social taboos and combat the demoniac forces of political power, coming out of it clean and pure—in other words, as the possessor of grace and power—or as a psychopath with grandiose delusions about both himself and the nature of reality. Either the book is a mythic journey into the dark night of the evil of which man is capable, or it is the dramatization of a journey into the dark night of the unconscious self. Perhaps it is both.

In Mailer’s psycho-aesthetic realm of reality, the quest is always for some primitive state of elemental or medieval magic perception. Rojack is indeed a psychopath, but as the primitive state and the psychotic state are the same, the way of the psychopath is the way to salvation. Thus, in The American Dream, social and personal complexities are eradicated by a system of simple and elemental macho values of power, grace under pressure, and thus, finally, sex and violence. Mailer couches all of this within the seemingly conflicting idioms of, on the one hand, the pop-art world of detective fiction and spy thrillers and, on the other, the popularizing of Martin...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Stephen Richard Rojack

Stephen Richard Rojack, the narrator and protagonist, a war hero, former congressman, professor of existential psychology, television personality, and murderer. On a late-night visit to his estranged wife, Deborah, Rojack strangles her after enduring her taunts. She challenges his manhood, and Rojack feels particularly vulnerable because he has had doubts about his character. Although he has achieved some notoriety, he has not lived up to his own heroic image of himself. He weathers the police interrogation well, even though the police suspect him of throwing Deborah’s body out the window to make her death look like suicide. Rojack is determined to act as his own man, which means confronting his hostile father-in-law, Barney Kelly, and fighting for his new love, Cherry. At the end of the novel, he leaves town on a quest westward, hoping to develop a better character based on what he has learned from murdering his wife and having to fight for his survival.


Deborah, Rojack’s wife, the daughter of Barney Kelly. Although her early years with Rojack were stimulating, she obviously has lost much respect for him and goads him into killing her at precisely the moment when he is looking for help. Deborah is beautiful, but she is cold and self-involved. She seems to have none of Rojack’s vulnerabilities. She dies at the beginning of the novel, but her character and her judgments of Rojack tend to dominate his thinking about himself.

Barney Kelly

Barney Kelly, a millionaire with connections to the Mafia who suspects Rojack of...

(The entire section is 670 words.)