The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The central character is Piet Hanema, a local builder who values old-fashioned style and construction techniques, much to the dismay of his partner. Piet is also a lover who searches for a release from his fears of death in the sexual encounters that he shares with his neighbors’ wives. Traumatized by the early death of his immigrant parents in an automobile accident, Piet is losing his once-vital Christian faith, finally abandoning it altogether in favor of salvation through the flesh in his new marriage to Foxy. It is Piet’s quest for personal meaning which forms the core of the plot and not the more highly sensational sexual antics of the Tarbox menage. Over against Piet are placed the two central female characters: Angela, Piet’s wife and the mother of his children, and Foxy, his lover, future wife, and, one presumes, future mother of more children. Angela, as her name implies, represents for Piet something spiritual and therefore unattainable. She accepts life and death as part of a natural cycle and does not share either Piet’s fears about his mortality or his search for a meaning in life. The very anxieties to which she does not respond, however, provide the attraction which draws other women into trying to comfort Piet’s sense of loss. Portrayed as possessing a diminishing sensuality, Angela becomes increasingly distant, both as a wife and as a symbol for Piet, thereby opening the opportunity for the affair with Foxy, who is sexually willing and who...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Couples Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Piet Hanema

Piet Hanema (peet), a builder and partner in the firm of Gallagher and Hanema, Real Estate and Contracting. A muscular, restless, red-headed, thirty-four-year-old Korean War veteran whose Dutch parents died in an auto accident, he worries about damnation and the aimlessness of his life. An insomniac and a womanizer, he has dreams that are often morbid, and his lusty heterosexuality is a subversive influence on the other Tarbox couples. Hired by Ken and Foxy Whitman to repair their house, he becomes the pregnant woman’s lover and later impregnates her himself. After others find out about Foxy’s subsequent abortion, Piet separates from his wife, marries Foxy, and moves to San Diego.

Angela Hanema

Angela Hanema, Piet’s wife, a kindergarten teacher. A sweet, serene, stately thirty-four-year-old with tiny feet and a dolphinlike body, the angelic Angela has a bland, languid opacity that makes her somewhat boring and frigid. She is shaken out of her comfortable domesticity by the consequences of her husband’s infidelities. She agrees to sleep with Freddy Thorne as payment for his arranging Foxy’s abortion. In return, Piet agrees to let her start psychotherapy. After divorcing Piet, she becomes a full-time teacher and invites her father to move in with her and her two daughters.

Ruth Hanema

Ruth Hanema, the eldest daughter of Piet and Angela. A placid, stoic nine-year-old whose bedroom decorations include pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, the Beatles, and a naked Nigerian bride, she thinks most people are “retardates” and is the object of subtle parental neglect of her emotional needs. Piet sees her as a burgeoning replica of his wife.

Nancy Hanema

Nancy Hanema, the youngest daughter of Piet and Angela. A thumb-sucking worrier, she is obsessed with her own negative self-image and the demise of her hamster, the First Family’s infant, and various wild animals whose carcasses she comes upon. Her insecurities mirror Piet’s fears about mortality and God’s mysterious ways.

Elizabeth “Foxy” Whitman

Elizabeth “Foxy” Whitman, the wife of Ken and lover of Piet. A vain, amber-eyed, five-foot, nine-inch Radcliffe graduate from Maryland, she is in her late twenties and trapped in a cold marriage. Somewhat of a tart, she is seen as bitchy and manipulative by those envious of her. Her habits can be slovenly, as evidenced by accumulation of unwashed dishes and her use of a piece of dry bacon as a bookmark. After her abortion and estrangement from Ken, she goes to the Virgin Islands, awaiting Piet’s decision whether to marry her.

Ken Whitman

Ken Whitman, a thirty-two-year-old research biologist interested in starfish and photosynthesis. He is a sullen, self-righteous man with icy eyes, a zombielike personality, a grimacing mouth, and hair beginning to gray at the temples. Unhappy in mid-career, he fears that Jewish and Asian colleagues are more brilliant and original. Incapable of deep feelings toward his wife or son, he demands a divorce after finding out about Foxy’s affair and abortion. Although he hates Piet, he expresses the hope that Piet will marry Foxy. At the end of the book, he takes up with Janet Appleby.

Constance Fox Roth

Constance Fox Roth, Foxy’s mother. A jolly, divorced busybody, generally well preserved, she is partial to her poodle, cocktail dresses, and red-tipped filter cigarettes. She likes being called Connie and bears little resemblance to the mother Foxy remembers from childhood. Visiting her daughter and grandson, she is not shocked by Foxy’s marital problems but urges her to hold on to Ken.

Freddy Thorne

Freddy Thorne, a dentist and spiritual guru of the Tarbox couples. A plump, bald, unathletic cynic with soft, clammy skin, a sickly mouth, and a green toenail, he has a dentist’s preoccupation with decay, an appetite for dirty truths, and a conspiratorial distrust of others’ intentions. Although he is androgynous, he collects Japanese erotica and is working on a pornographic play. His revenge for...

(The entire section is 1714 words.)