Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 755
David Kitzinger, an architect and father of three. David is a dreamer and a schemer, a man of vision who gets caught up in ideas and concepts, especially his own. He loves architecture for the thrill of creating concrete reality from scratch and the challenge of overcoming practical obstacles. He conceives a plan to build high-rise public housing on a tract of slum land on Basuto Road in southeastern London, but the scheme grows and expands until it becomes overwhelmingly unpopular. Accepting the defeat of his plan breaks his spirit. David is concerned with helping others, but his concern is seldom responsive to their particular tangible needs. His mathematical mind is reflected in his moral attitudes: To him, independence—the integrity of things or people—is a supreme virtue. His desire to be fair and objective, to respect everyone’s rights and desires and never to take sides, results in a kind of moral blindness. His purported magnanimity often is only a form of arrogance and egotism, most clearly evident in the patronizing attitude and pity he exhibits toward Colin and Sheila.
Jane Kitzinger, David’s wife. Jane is a former anthropologist who has been helping with David’s architectural practice and eventually becomes a caseworker with a housing trust in southwestern London. Jane is a realist who retains a healthy perspective on life and accepts things exactly as they are. She plays devil’s advocate to her husband’s schemes when necessary, but generally she is an extremely supportive wife and assistant. Intelligent, organized, and industrious, Jane is capable and often takes on more than her share of problems and responsibilities, never begrudgingly. She truly enjoys accommodating others, generously and diplomatically, and works hard to make things run smoothly for everyone in her life. When pushed, however, she can become fiercely possessive and territorial; having a strong sense of herself, she will fight for her own needs. She begins with an ironic awareness of economic injustice and, as a result of her involvement in both Basuto Road and the Molyneuxs’ domestic life, ultimately arrives at a truer sense of social mission.
Colin Molyneux (COL-ihn mol-ee-NOH), David’s friend and neighbor and a father of two. Colin, a former classical scholar, works on a women’s magazine and is editing an encyclopedia of sexual terminology. Eventually, he leaves his job and his home to become a squatter in Basuto Road and organizes its poor inhabitants against the skyscraper scheme, which he considers a vulgar expression of David’s maleness. Colin is a dark personality, a man full of anger and hatred, who adopts a sardonic attitude and cold reserve toward everything he encounters. He is intelligent and perceptive to the point of prescience, and he enjoys commenting on what is happening as it happens, creating a jarring social self-consciousness. His actions are often without motivation: He likes to mock others and to provoke arguments, and he considers kindness and sentiment to be crimes. He never shows tenderness, and, when his jaded veneer drops and he really becomes angry, he is absolutely ruthless. Having married Sheila out of pity and paternity, Colin is now bored and frustrated with her, as he is with the complete mediocrity his life has assumed. In breaking away over the Basuto Road scheme, he discovers a refreshing simplicity of mind and the positive energy to fight fervently for a modest cause.
Sheila Molyneux, Colin’s wife and Jane’s friend. Sheila is a quiet, simple, innocent soul virtually lacking in ego and confidence. She is a housewife who looks after her children, Matt and Lizzie, rather awkwardly and tentatively; later, she takes a job at the Kitzingers’ house as David’s secretary and assistant. Self-assured people like David and Jane terrify her, and she envies their clarity of purpose and apparent happiness. Her simplicity allows her to find a rich and spontaneous joy in simple experiences and poetic ideas, and she truly admires and delights in David’s creative vision without fully understanding it. Sheila aspires to be a person who helps others, but she is hopelessly dependent on those around her for her emotional and practical needs. Intent on pleasing Colin, she is more often thwarted and baffled by him. She feels guilty for holding him back and terrified that he will leave her. Once she takes the children and leaves him, she expresses deep hatred for him, and her accumulated rage explodes in a horrible act of blind and sudden violence.
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