The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The major characters in The Comedians are developed in terms of their varying degrees of personal and political commitment. The clue to the characterization of Brown can be found in the novel’s title. Brown is a comedian in the French sense of “actor,” and as such, he is another of Graham Greene’s uncommitted protagonist/narrators who take up roles and discard them as if they were masks. The quintessential man alone, Brown has no family, no country, and no real home. Born in Monte Carlo of a British father and a mother of uncertain nationality, Brown is educated at a Jesuit college, where he wins prizes for his Latin composition. For a time, he thinks he has a religious vocation (“As other boys fought with the demon of masturbation, I fought with faith”). Yet after a particularly successful visit to a casino, which is followed less than an hour later by the loss of his virginity in the Hotel de Paris, Brown drops a five-franc roulette token into the collection bag at Mass, an indiscretion which leads to his departure from the Fathers of the Visitation.

The mature Brown is convinced that he has no allegiance and no belief: “The rootless have experienced, like all others, the temptation of sharing the security of a religious creed or a political faith, and for some reason we have turned the temptation down.” His love affair with Martha is characterized by a lack of commitment. He cannot believe that Martha loves him. Tormented by suspicion and jealousy, he often responds to her gentleness with anger and believes that they “were less lovers than fellow-conspirators tied together in the commission of a crime.” Even when Brown, who genuinely despises Papa Doc’s...

(The entire section is 695 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Brown, the narrator, a part-Englishman from Monaco who has inherited a hotel in Haiti. Jaded, cynical, and detached, Brown has returned to Haiti in his late fifties because he has no real home and the hotel is all he owns. After run-ins with François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s secret police and after he has betrayed his friend Jones and his mistress Martha through his misplaced suspicion of them, he escapes from the fear-ridden country to the Dominican Republic, where he becomes a partner in a mortician’s concern.

“Major” Jones

“Major” Jones, a former theater manager in his late forties who pretends to have been a war hero. A man sought by the police in several countries, he is nevertheless very likable, because he has a kindness about him and always makes people laugh. Tricked by Brown into joining the cause of the resistance against Papa Doc, he dies heroically in an effort to allow his fellow rebels to escape.

William Abel Smith

William Abel Smith, an elderly, idealistic vegetarian who has come to Haiti because he believes that avoidance of meat will neutralize destructive passions and because he wishes to start a Haitian vegetarian institute. Having run on the vegetarian ticket in the 1948 election, he is accepted as a former presidential candidate by the naïve authorities and even granted some credibility. His attempts to help people usually backfire disastrously,...

(The entire section is 534 words.)