The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

From the beginning of the novel, the narrator gains the reader’s sympathy because of his overwhelming loneliness. As a child of poor parents and a member of an ethnic minority, he is made to feel different from an early age. This difference is used by the author to create motivation in the narrator’s decision to become a hustler. Despite his attempts to display no emotion toward his clients and to kill compassion in himself, he displays an understanding of those who are different, so that people confide in him. Thus he becomes for the reader an emblem of hope for humanity in an inhumane world.

Mr. King feels guilty about his sexual orientation despite his bravado announcements to the contrary. He invites the reader’s pity because, much like the narrator, he pretends that he lacks compassion. This hard exterior is quickly exposed as a veneer designed to mask his devastating loneliness. He resembles most of the narrator’s clients; they are neurotic because of society’s rejection and persecution of their sexual orientation.

The Professor differs from Mr. King because of his intellect and command of language, which he uses to manipulate people. His failure, as it is communicated to the reader, is his inability to recognize true love. Despite his erudition and scholarly importance, he believes that he is unattractive and therefore compelled to pay for sex. The Professor, because of his sense of captivity in an inadequate body, fails to...

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, the nameless protagonist, of Mexican American background. His ethnicity does not play a significant role during his years as a male prostitute, but subconsciously it manifests itself in a sense of guilt, fostered by his mother’s fervent Catholicism and by his father’s death. Much of the narrator’s career is a rebellion against his family background and religious promises of eternal life and redemption. the death of his dog and his mother’s claim that dogs do not go to heaven push the narrator into a crisis of faith that he acts out through open rebellion and emotional withdrawal. This pattern repeats itself throughout the narrator’s wanderings through the homosexual underground. On one hand, the narrator thrives on the life of the streets and the desire that other men express for his body; on the other hand, he rents rooms away from this environment so that he can always have an emotional refuge. the need to have his body adored by as many people as possible stems from his loss of religious faith. If there is no afterlife, no possibility of redemption and resurrection, as he often tells himself, then his youthful body is his only weapon against the forces of time; thus as long as he is young and desirable, he engages in an orgy of desirability. Despite his intent to kill compassion in himself and wear a mask of insensitivity, the narrator cannot do so. He thus becomes a confessor figure to his clients, because there is an aura about him that other male prostitutes do not possess.


Pete, a typical young male prostitute who initiates the narrator into the life of the streets. Despite his tough exterior, he is vulnerable and lost. His one display of affection toward the narrator serves to separate the two, because they feel that they have violated the code of toughness their trade demands.

The Professor

The Professor, a client. Despite his ability to deceive himself through a torrent of words, he is as lonely and craves love as much as all the narrator’s customers.

Jeremy Adams

Jeremy Adams, a man who empathizes with the narrator’s psychological dilemma. He makes the narrator realize that there is no real difference between prostitute and client; both are symbiotically linked through shared loneliness.