The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Though De Vries is skilled at creating comic caricatures, Don Wanderhope is clearly at the center of the novel. An immigrant’s son from a poor and unpromising Dutch family, his principal motivation is to become successful enough to enjoy some of the benefits of the good life. Yet he is thwarted by a series of personal and family calamities. Wanderhope, as his name suggests, is born to wander (away from his childhood religion, in search of other consolations) and to hope (for some respite from the suffering meted out to himself and those he loves). A secular pilgrim, he chooses the comfortable path of an advertising career, but he is still beset by heartaches in his private life—Louie’s and Rena Baker’s deaths, his wife’s suicide, and finally, Carol’s death from leukemia.

A modern Job, he faces many temptations to his faith, and like Job, he is too honest to accept the easy answers of orthodoxy; but unlike Job, suffering does not deepen but diminishes his faith. For as Wanderhope comments at one point, “there seems to be little support in reality for the popular view that we are mellowed by suffering. Happiness mellows us, not troubles; pleasure, perhaps, even more than happiness.”

Carol Wanderhope, his daughter, is depicted as a graceful, charming, and vibrant girl, with blue eyes and straight blonde hair, an impish grin, and remarkable courage and fortitude. She is no doubt modeled after De Vries’s own daughter Emily, who...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Don Wanderhope

Don Wanderhope, the son of pietistic Dutch immigrants in South Chicago. As a youth, he works for his father, who has a garbage-collection business, and attends the University of Chicago. As his name suggests, he can neither believe nor disbelieve in divine providence. Times of hopefulness and happiness in his life invariably are followed by suffering and loss. He decides finally on reason, courage, and grace, but insists that the grace is solely humanity’s to give, that there is no God to make all things right in the end.

Ben Wanderhope

Ben Wanderhope, Don’s father, an intelligent but ill-educated immigrant businessman. He wavers between a variety of Dutch Calvinism that allows grace only to the elect and no belief at all. His faith is rekindled when he thinks that he is drowning in a garbage pit and again when profession of belief will lead to reduced fees for Don’s treatment at a church-run sanatorium. Finally, he becomes so depressed that he has to be institutionalized for the remainder of his life.

Louie Wanderhope

Louie Wanderhope, Don’s older brother and hero, who dies while a medical student at the University of Chicago. Always a scoffer, on his deathbed he assures those in attendance that he has “no doubts” whatsoever as to what is to follow. His smile at Don lets his brother know exactly what he means by his statement, though the others are pleasantly...

(The entire section is 407 words.)