The Characters

The hero-narrator at one point explains to an interrogator that he is going to Japan. “I have an uncle in Japan. He is very rich, and if I behave nicely to him I may some day have more money than I have now.” This answer displeases Mostafa, the Persian bandit to whom it is addressed. He tells the hero, “Yes, you are an American. I am very disappointed in you. I thought you had a soul, but now I see that you have no soul, after all.” Mostafa goes on to explain that fewer and fewer are happy. The world is too full of things to do, and people have no time to cultivate the loneliness that nurtures a soul. Mostafa originally mistakes the hero for an Asiatic like himself; that is, he thinks that he is an American Indian. “You watch and watch; no one ever knows what you think; you look strong and passionate and sly.” This original sizing-up of the hero thus makes Mostafa’s disappointment doubly sharp, and it underscores the differences both in culture and in temperament that distinguish the hero from the people among whom he passes.

Whatever the health of his soul, the hero benefits from his rich experiences because he keeps himself courageously open to the events that overtake him. On one occasion he is worn down by “bits of irritability, splinters of suspicion, of jealousy, of detestation, of loneliness, of wicked understanding.” This condition moves him to withdraw from all people: “Don’t let them toy with you, don’t let them wriggle...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Characters Discussed

The narrator

The narrator, a nameless seeker after knowledge of the world, on a pilgrimage from Beirut to Hong Kong. A twenty-two-year-old American, he is strongly built and apparently attractive. He reveals little of his background, but it is clear that he is well read and open to experience. He becomes at times weary of the betrayals of his passing companions and considers a monkish withdrawal from the world, but he realizes finally that he must remain vulnerable to the world’s shocks if he is to benefit from his observations of humanity. He makes no effort to shape his life, remaining a passive register of events. He is perhaps an innocent from the New World who deliberately seeks out the most shocking and degraded elements of the old civilizations through which he journeys.

Antoine Samazeuilh

Antoine Samazeuilh (AN-twahn sahm-a-zwee), a roguish vagabond from Rouen, France. The handsome Samazeuilh is twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, muscular, and blessed with curly blond hair. He is a faithless friend, accustomed to using friends of both sexes and abandoning them at a whim. He disappears while hiking through Syria with the narrator, only to turn up again improbably in Phnom-Penh before vanishing for good in Hue.

Feodor Krusnayaskov

Feodor Krusnayaskov (FYOH-dohr krew-snah-YAHS-kof), a...

(The entire section is 459 words.)