The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Alejandro Stern is very much an outsider, a reserved, formal man, an Argentinean immigrant and a Jew, on whom the nickname “Sandy” sits not a little uncomfortably. Turow further distances the reader from his main character by using a third-person narrator who, although sharing Stern’s point of view, frequently refers to Stern as “Mr. Alejandro Stern.” Such techniques go some way toward explaining Stern’s predicament in The Burden of Proof, his alienation from his family, his incomprehension in the face of his wife’s suicide. Unfortunately, these techniques sometimes also make Stern incomprehensible to the reader, so that the mystery at the heart of the novel— why did Clara kill herself?—is never entirely resolved. Clara Stern committed suicide because of the consequences of her anger at her husband. Because the novel’s focus on him is not always sharp, the causes of his wife’s destructive behavior are themselves blurred.

In contrast, the portrait of Stern’s antagonist, Dixon Hartnell, is vividly drawn. Here, as in John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (1667), the hero’s opposite number is more energetic and attractive than those on the side of the angels. Indeed, Hartnell is portrayed in terms that make him out to be the devil in disguise. Toward the end of the novel, when his sins have been revealed, Hartnell tells his brother-in-law, “I’ve always wanted to do what other people wouldn’t,” to which Stern...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alejandro “Sandy” Stern

Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, a prominent lawyer. Sandy immigrated to America in the 1940’s and subsequently romanced and married Clara Mittler, who committed suicide shortly before the action of the novel. Sandy must discover why his wife killed herself and also has to deal with the complicated legal problems of his principal client, Dixon Hartnell. Discovering the reasons behind his wife’s death and Dixon’s erratic behavior forces Sandy to confront painful truths about his marriage and his family.

Dixon Hartnell

Dixon Hartnell, Sandy’s brother-in-law, the head of Maison Dixon, a commodity-trading firm. A Korean War veteran, Dixon has used his talent at salesmanship to build his firm. He appears to have made illegal commodities transactions and could be guilty of insider trading. Dixon refuses to explain why Clara Stern gave him a check for $850,000 shortly before her suicide. He periodically avoids subpoenas and refuses to meet with Sandy to discuss his legal problems. Dixon also hides incriminating documents in a safe, which periodically disappears. Eventually, Dixon’s motives are revealed, and he is discovered to be more honorable than he appears.

Sonia Klonsky

Sonia Klonsky, an assistant district attorney in charge of prosecuting the Hartnell case. She originally aspired to be a writer and became a lawyer in her mid-thirties. At the age of...

(The entire section is 531 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The central characters of The Burden of Proof are nearly all members of the Stern family. At the center of the novel is Alejandro...

(The entire section is 472 words.)