Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 800

Eliot Nailles

Eliot Nailles, a middle-aged chemist turned advertising man whose current project is the promotion of a mouthwash called Spang. He lives in the “village” of Bullet Park, a suburb of New York City, where he works. He loves his wife and son in a desperate and finally futile way, wishing to impart to them a sense of the blessedness of autumn leaves and thunder but not quite knowing how to do so. He is baffled by the affluence of Bullet Park and the “modern conveniences” of television, liquor, and, finally, drugs. He succeeds in saving Tony, his son, from Paul Hammer’s murderous machinations and in bringing about an apparent return to normalcy on the part of his family. In the book’s final paragraph, however, he is drugged and blankly “happy.”

Paul Hammer

Paul Hammer, a middle-aged man who is independently wealthy and who moves with his wife, Marietta Hammer, to Bullet Park and becomes a neighbor of the Nailles family. He appears initially to be eccentric and proves finally to be psychotic. He has traveled the world in search of images that will lay to rest a constant malaise that he refers to as hiscafard and bête noire. The most prominent of these images is a yellow room. Hammer eventually occupies such a room somewhere outside the city, but he has it tarnished by his “bewitching” wife, who paints it after Hammer has lost faith in its ennobling powers. Arrived in Bullet Park, Hammer decides to authenticate himself by some bizarre act; he subsequently plans to immolate Tony Nailles on the altar of Christ Church in Bullet Park. After being thwarted in this attempt by a chainsaw-wielding Eliot Nailles, Hammer is sent to a mental institution.

Nellie Nailles

Nellie Nailles, the middle-aged wife of Eliot Nailles. She is loved by her husband, principally on the basis of her radiant thighs. She appears initially to be the stabilizing influence in the family, but she becomes dislocated after going into the city and attending an avant-garde play featuring a nude scene. Nellie returns to Bullet Park and strives to regain her composure but realizes that her composure is possibly contemptible, depending, as it does, on “shutting doors.” Despite her good heart, she is as impotent as her husband is in the matter of helping her troubled son.

Tony Nailles

Tony Nailles, a high school football player and the son of Eliot and Nellie Nailles. He is addicted to television. After his father flings the television from the house, he develops a mysterious ailment that renders him unwilling to leave his bed. Tony is the only character in the novel who appears to be headed in positive directions after his cure by Swami Rutuola, but he drops out of the book after being healed and returns only at the end as the would-be sacrificial victim of Paul Hammer.

Swami Rutuola

Swami Rutuola, a black man of unspecified age, a self-proclaimed healer. He is the head of the Temple of Light, located in the slums of Bullet Park. Commissioned by Nellie Nailles to try to help her son, he does so by teaching Tony to chant what he calls “place cheers” (sentences that invoke healing images of places) and such words as “valor” and “love.” The swami appears to be sincere in his ministrations, and they work. He refuses pay for his services.

Gretchen Shurz Oxencroft

Gretchen Shurz Oxencroft, the mother of Paul Hammer. A gray-haired, fiercely blue-eyed eccentric, she lives in Kitzbuhel and is afflicted by a sense of the overwhelming mystery of life and by a determination that only an act as radical as a crucifixion will wake the world to life’s mystery. She tells her son these things, perhaps influencing his attempt at homicide.

Mildred Hoe

Mildred Hoe, an unmarried high school French teacher. Miss Hoe constantly fears that she will be brutally raped and murdered. In a conference with Tony Nailles about his poor performance in French, she is told by Tony that he could kill her if he wished. She screams for help, says that she has been threatened, and presses charges. After several harrowing hours in the police station, Tony is released into his father’s custody.

Marietta Hammer

Marietta Hammer, the middle-aged, beautiful, blonde wife of Paul Hammer. She refers to her husband as a “henpecked doormat” and prophesies that he will never find what he is looking for but will, rather, always be lonely.

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard, a thirty-year-old war widow. She meets Tony Nailles at a bookstore, and they subsequently spend a night together. The next day, Mrs. Hubbard and Tony have a rather uneasy lunch with Tony’s parents, after which Tony promises his father, in Mrs. Hubbard’s absence, never to do anything so unseemly again.

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