Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, an aged city planner and former professor in a central Hungarian town. He has been awarded many degrees and diplomas and honored for his role in the technical progress of his city in the early days of socialism. Keenly aware of his own physical and moral degeneration, he at times seems obsessed with death and guilt as he lives alone with his memories in an apartment stuffed with an accumulation of useless objects. In the city all around him, he sees reminders in concrete of the errors of his life, errors that can be erased only by dynamite. As a city planner, he mapped out for society a future that has become an almost unbearable present in a state ruled by power-hungry bureaucrats, chosen for their cynicism and idle chatter and protected by the organizational system. Born into a wealthy bourgeois family, he became a member of another privileged class, the intelligentsia, after private property was abolished. Although, as an idealistic builder of the city following the devastation of war, he attempted to abolish social stratification, in reality he created a modified system of inequalities to replace the former political structure. Once he repeated mindless slogans and believed the hierarchical military to be the most efficient of all organizations. He perfunctorily eulogizes his superior, a former Gestapo spy with thirty-two years in the movement who has committed suicide. Reflecting on the dead director, the city builder admits his own lust for power. Later, he inspects an earthquake-torn city, where, he believes, his own son lies buried in the rubble. Finally, he joins a noisy crowd in the town...

(The entire section is 674 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Since the characters of The City Builder are seen through the eyes of the narrator, they reveal as much about him as about themselves. His grandfather, his mother, and his father, for example, all belong to a childhood of prosperity and security, of pleasure and joy. After he describes the autocratic grandfather, the important father, the passionate and beautiful mother, the narrator adds that he did not like their kind of life because it was founded on pride. Yet his description of that life indicates that his own memories are happy. The narrator’s father, for example, is a lusty, gossipy, hot-tempered man, given to snatching at the maid, shouting at his son, and conversing with God as his equal. Certainly the bloated capitalist of propaganda, in the narrator’s reminiscences he is infinitely preferable to the slavish officeholders of the new society, who are so busy protecting themselves that they accomplish nothing. Thus the narrator’s own assessments of such capitalists, of whom he does not approve, are belied by the tone of his descriptions.

The narrator’s most-admired women, like his father, are lusty and free-spirited. Acknowledging the peccadilloes of her husband, the narrator’s mother obviously was delighted by him. The narrator details her sexual joy in her husband, a joy much like that of his own dead wife, whose sensuality, forever lost to him, is a constant torment. Both of them share the glitter of the long-dead lady who is...

(The entire section is 524 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Kessler, Jascha. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIII (January 22, 1978), pp. 13, 21.

Lardner, Susan. Review in The New Yorker. LIV (April 10, 1978), pp. 141-143.

Sanders, Ivan. “Freedom’s Captives: Notes on George Konrád’s Novels,” in World Literature Today. LVII (Spring, 1983), pp. 210-214.

Sanders, Ivan. “Human Dialogues Are Born,” in The Nation. CCIV (April 23, 1977), pp. 504-506.

Solataroff, Ted. “The Weight of History,” in The New Republic. CLXXXVIII (February 14, 1983), pp. 28-33.