The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The most perplexing character of the novel must certainly be the immortal Benjamin Eleazer. Since he is called different names by different people, it is perhaps conceivable that the novel contains three similar but different old Jews, but the reader is much more strongly pointed to a mythological meaning for his character. He seems in fact to be the “Wandering Jew” of popular legend, who struck and mocked Jesus Christ on His way to crucifixion and was told by Christ: “I go, but you will wait till I return.” Since then, the story goes, the Wandering Jew has traveled the earth waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah. This legend is strongly suggested in one scene in which Benjamin looks into the face of a newcomer, only to say in disappointment “It’s still not Him.” A second legend is equally strongly suggested in the third section, when children shout at an old tramp, “he be old Lazar, same one ’ut the Lor’ Hesus raise up.” Could Benjamin Eleazar be the Lazarus of John 11, raised from the dead by Jesus—and then, in legend, not permitted to die again?

The answer is not clear. Yet the role of “the Old Jew” within the novel certainly is. His function is to present a kind of detachment from the follies of humanity, as one who has literally “seen it all before,” and as one who realizes that the truly significant events are not scientific, or political, or historical, but are those concerned with the salvation that he...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Brother Francis Gerard

Brother Francis Gerard, a young, fresh-faced novice of the Albertian order of Leibowitz. Brother Francis discovers a fallout shelter containing relics of the Blessed Leibowitz (who, apparently, was a scientist in pre-nuclear holocaust America). Francis’ discovery causes a stir in the abbey, especially because rumors allege that the pilgrim he saw prior to his discovery was Leibowitz himself.

The pilgrim

The pilgrim, who also appears as Benjamin Eleazar bar Joshua and Lazarus, an old man who may be the Wandering Jew. His figure appears in each of the three sections of the book, though he is not overtly identified as the same man each time. As the pilgrim, he marks a stone for Brother Francis that leads to discovery of the fallout shelter. As Benjamin Eleazar, he discusses with Dom Paulo the rise of a secular state and waits for a messiah. As Lazarus, he is assigned the role of the man whom Christ raised from the dead and smiles wryly at Abbot Zerchi’s hope that there will not be another nuclear holocaust.

Dom Arkos

Dom Arkos, the abbot of the Leibowitz Abbey in the first section of the book. Arkos attempts to quash the rumors surrounding the man whom Francis met in the desert and turns the examination of the fallout shelter and its contents over to another order. Toward the end of Arkos’ tenure, Leibowitz is declared a saint.

Brother Fingo

Brother Fingo, a man with an unusual pattern of melanin distribution. Fingo carves a wooden statue of Leibowitz that, over the years, vaguely reminds Brother Francis, Dom Paulo, and Dom Zerchi of someone they cannot identify. The implication is that the statue reminds them of the Wandering Jew.

Dom Paulo

Dom Paulo, the abbot of the Leibowitz Abbey in the second section...

(The entire section is 766 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The three parts of A Canticle for Leibowitz span a period of nearly two thousand years (from the first nuclear war to the second)....

(The entire section is 523 words.)