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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

The main character of this story is the narrator who remains nameless. He is a young vagabond who is traveling across the United States. The story starts in the narrator’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. His dog passes away which sends him into a spiral of depression. His parents are...

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The main character of this story is the narrator who remains nameless. He is a young vagabond who is traveling across the United States. The story starts in the narrator’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. His dog passes away which sends him into a spiral of depression. His parents are very Catholic and he feels stifled around them. He runs to New York City where he begins his hustling life as a male prostitute. Through him the reader meets many characters he interacts with.

Pete is also a hustler in New York City. His relationship to the narrator changes overtime. At first they have a mentorship. Pete has been hustling for longer than the narrator. He shows him the profitable spots to work and how to win a “score.” However, their relationship becomes more fraternal when they develop a rivalry. Eventually the two become lovers. However, this does not last long. Both Pete and the narrator share an internalized homophobia. At one point Pete tells the narrator that he is not gay if he is just having sex for money.

Flip is a drag queen that both Pete and the narrator become involved with. Flip is mostly used by the two friends as a part of their rivalry. At one point the narrator sleeps with her. In another scene he tries to trick Pete into thinking she is a woman. In another scene Pete tries to have a threesome with the narrator and flip.

The “fat man” and the “skinny man” are met at Harry’s Bar in Los Angeles. The narrator watches as the fat man flirts with another hustler. He does so to make fun of the hustler and the skinny man. These characters are introduced to show the cattiness of gay culture. The fat man is described as “pudgy” and reeks of cologne. The skinny man is described as “vampish” with “eyes gaunt.”

Lance O’Hara is the first openly gay man introduced in the book. The narrator looks up to him as a potential role model. Here the novel takes a shift from sex to community. Lance interacts with a variety of people who become further characters in the book. He speaks with Jamey, Esmeralda Drake, and Chick.

Randy is another bar-goer who is infatuated with Lance. He is calm and quiet in comparison to Jamey and Chick.

Jeremy is the final love interest in the story. He lives in New Orleans and the narrator meets him around Mardi Gras. It seems that the two will fall in love, however, the holiday puts the narrator into a tailspin, and their romance comes to an end.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

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 recognize that Larry, his male nurse, loves him unconditionally. Again, the Professor is portrayed as a victim of societal expectations.

Pete is one of the male hustlers whom the narrator describes at length. He is the representative of an entire group of lost young men. Like other hustlers, he is supposed to be tough and heterosexual. When the narrator and Pete spend one night together just holding hands, even this limited show of affection and emotional need is too much for both. Their roles have been compromised, and they avoid one another from then on.

Miss Destiny, a transvestite, is the most elaborately described character in the book. Her portrait is fully developed, and her regal attitude stands in stark contrast to her seedy surroundings. She is shown as more oppressed by society than Mr. King; for example, by law she is not even allowed to wear female attire. Yet she is also described as courageous, because she defies society and its laws. Ultimately, she is as lonely as the other men in the novel, left with the sinking feeling that God played a cruel trick on her.

In many ways, Neil is the most pathetic and repulsive character in the novel. He is a masochist who sees his life’s mission as initiating other men into sadomasochism. His function is to show how far a human being can stray from humaneness and still talk about love.

Jeremy is the representative of those men who want more than sexual gratification from the narrator. He has overcome the intense narcissism that enslaves the narrator and thus is able to offer affection and the possibility of love. In many ways, he is one of the most fully realized characters of the novel, and he engages the reader’s sympathy. His failure to win the narrator over to his point of view is painful, because the reader wants him to succeed.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 388

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.

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Critical Essays