Compromising Positions Characters
Judith Singer, the protagonist, is a I delightfully modern Pandora, motivated by insatiable curiosity in the face of strong deterrents but, unlike her literary forerunner, she is willing to endanger her comfortable world in order to learn about herself, and not just to discover a secret. Armed with the gift of repartee and the ability to analyze data and people, she probes the secrets of her community with flair and humor, testing her discoveries against her own notions of life and love. She is a three-dimensional, unique heroine of modern fiction, whose superficial similarities with other protagonists of women's novels ultimately disappear through her highly personal and witty observations. One reviewer termed the heroine "the alienated housewife's fantasy of action." Clearly, Judith Singer is a breakthrough as modern feminist-cum-detective heroine.
Since this novel is at once a detective story, a light comedy of manners and a Bildungsroman or novel of development, all of the other characters, although well-drawn and three-dimensional, serve primarily as foils to the heroine's quest for self-realization. The family of the murder victim — stereotypical Long Island middle-class Jewish people concerned with appearances, upward mobility and assimilation — mirror what the heroine could become if she were not the questioning, restless individual she is. A militantly Catholic neighbor who busies herself with local politics, the anti-abortion movement, making bread and sewing her children's clothing is a model of the mother- as-saint role that Judith rejects for herself; a Southern woman free-lance journalist and friend of the protagonist who indulges regularly in casual extramarital affairs provides Judith with a certain model of happiness and enables her to come to intellectual and emotional terms with her sexuality. Her husband — a genuinely bright, ambitious man whose priorities have shifted from the study of comparative literature to the wooing of clients for his family's public relations firm, at the expense of communication with his wife at all levels — symbolizes the lost dreams of the heroine's youth as well as the bewildered post-1960s man struggling to deal with the ramifications of women's liberation. Finally, the investigating officer and love interest — not the uncouth gorilla whom Judith expects, but rather an articulate and sensitive man who happens to be a policeman — serves as a catalyst to Judith's long-denied needs as woman and individual. At the same time as these characters advance the surface plot (the detective story), they illuminate various facets of the heroine's personality and provide her with a wide variety of choices.