In The City and the Pillar, Vidal was not the master of characterization that he was to become in such later novels as Julian (1964), Myra Breckinridge (1968), or Burr (1973). Jim Willard, as the protagonist, is more multifaceted than are the other main characters in this novel, but even he is developed more through Vidal’s omniscient presentation of him rather than by a well-constructed, consistent pattern of behavior.
In Jim, Vidal shaped a homosexual protagonist who did not fit the stereotype of the times. Handsome and athletic, Jim does not consider himself homosexual until well into the book. At first, he is able to dismiss his early affair with Bob Ford as being merely the adolescent experiment that Bob later labels it when he says, “that was awful kid stuff we did.” The fact that he has lingering thoughts about Bob does not strike Jim as indicative of ingrained homosexuality.
Even during his affair with Ronald Shaw, Jim continues to regard himself as essentially heterosexual—in part because he does not fall in love with Shaw. Shaw is a less rounded character than Jim. He is proud, narcissistic, and given to self-pity and melodrama, as is evident in his parting words to Jim: “I admit I’ve been hurt, terribly hurt by you, but I don’t hold it against you; that is probably the one quality I have that you will never find in anyone else: I could always forgive.”
In Paul Sullivan,...
(The entire section is 530 words.)