The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dutch Schultz is a remarkable fictional achievement, largely because his spare dialogue so accurately reflects his view of the world. He uses words bluntly to say exactly what he means and what he wants. His style is to have no style, so to speak, no barrier of words that coat or deflect his true intentions. His aim is to amass power, and power is an all-encompassing reality for him, making possible not only his reputation as a gangster but his success as a lover. He would seem less impressive were it not for Billy’s faithful recording of his words without editorializing. Schultz would probably appear to an adult as merely a thug, as someone not quite grown up who cannot control his impulses. For the adolescent Billy, however, the gangster appeals for precisely such reasons: Schultz has not trimmed his character to fit the normal world; he has not shaped up to suit society’s dictates.

Billy is equally well realized as a character. He is a fascinating mixture of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. On the one hand, he has Huck’s outlaw mentality; Billy will be educated by his adventures, by pursuing the raffish world outside the classroom and the home. He has a mother, but he is—practically speaking—an orphan, and must acquire an identity by adopting the ways of Schultz’s world. He does not share his boss’s appetite for violence, but he does not flinch at it either, accepting it as part of the bargain for his apprenticeship in crime. On the other...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Billy Bathgate

Billy Bathgate, a fifteen-year-old boy from the Bronx who attracts the attention of gangster Dutch Schultz as he juggles outside Schultz’s warehouse. A quick-witted, clever young man, he makes himself useful enough to secure a place on the fringes of the gang, running errands for Dutch, working as a busboy at his club, and eventually accompanying him on his odyssey to the country in preparation for his tax evasion trial. Billy, who never knew his father and whose mother teeters on the edge of sanity, discovers in Dutch’s gang a surrogate family that both attracts and repulses him. A brave young man with a gift for pleasing adults, he senses that his association with the gang makes him part of history, but also that it places his life in jeopardy. He joins Dutch as the renowned gangster is losing his grip on his dominion, pursued by both the government and rival gangs. As Billy becomes a more integral part of the gang, he witnesses the horrific death of Schultz’s lieutenant Bo Weinberg, the casually brutal murder of a window washer, and the slaughter of a hapless fire inspector who arrives at an inopportune moment. He realizes that he knows too much for his own safety. Through use of his own intelligence, he manages not only to be the only member to survive when the gang is wiped out by rivals but also to locate the gang’s hidden fortune and emerge years later as a prominent and successful member of society.

Dutch Schultz

Dutch Schultz, born Arthur Flegonheimer, a renowned gangster no longer at the height of his powers. In his thirties, the short-necked, solid Schultz always appears badly dressed, even in expensive clothes. the head of...

(The entire section is 697 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The title character of the novel is a boy from the East Bronx who takes his last name from a street near his home, Bathgate Avenue, which he...

(The entire section is 480 words.)