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.)