Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 377

Three characters form the dominant focus of attention in The Damnation Game. Of these, the least interesting from a purely literary point of view is Joseph Whitehead, the ambitious gambler who seeks out and ultimately loses the game which gives the work its title. Whether it be owing to the...

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  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
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Three characters form the dominant focus of attention in The Damnation Game. Of these, the least interesting from a purely literary point of view is Joseph Whitehead, the ambitious gambler who seeks out and ultimately loses the game which gives the work its title. Whether it be owing to the seeming inevitability of the outcome (something to which readers have perhaps become conditioned through a long tradition of Faustian narratives) or the author's own lack of interest in the Promethean urges which create these situations, it is clear that the most powerful characterization is given to the tempter and not the tempted.

Mamoulian, known at times as The Last European, is not the Devil (he quite specifically denies this allegation at one point in the narrative), but he represents a vision of damnation of which the archfiend would certainly approve. Once a man, he relinquished his humanity to gain supernatural powers and a form of immortality which he now maintains through the absorption and annihilation of human souls. He represents the void, for within him there is an absence of all feeling, all sensation: He is, as Barker has noted, "nothingness personified." As a unique incarnation of evil, he belongs in the select company of figures as wide-ranging as Milton's Satan and Bram Stoker's Count Dracula.

Standing somewhat outside the central struggle between Whitehead and Mamoulian, but forced nonetheless to witness its horrors, is Marty Strauss, an ex-convict who is retained by Whitehead as his personal bodyguard. His confrontation with and ultimate understanding of the essential nihilistic threat posed by Mamoulian functions not only to bring about his own humanistic revitalization but also is essential to the author's articulation of his central thematic issues, for it is primarily through Marty's point of view that the reader comes to recognize them.

Among the novel's numerous minor characters, one deserves special mention. Anthony Breer (aka The Razor-Eater), a creature controlled by Mamoulian, may well represent the most vivid depiction of sadomasochistic depravity to be found in all of literature. The revelation that he is, in fact, a reanimated zombie who has been slowly corrupting throughout the course of the action forms, strangely enough, an effective counterpoint to his role in engineering some of the novel's most violently exotic scenes.

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