Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ferdinand (fehr-dee-NAHN), a doctor and aspiring writer who narrates the novel. Personally as well as professionally disillusioned, he cares for his patients although he believes most human beings are not worth saving and are, in fact, better off dead. The reasons for Ferdinand’s deep-seated pessimism are evident in his account of his childhood and adolescence. Beaten and abused by his petit bourgeois father, exploited by his employers, and disenchanted with women and love, he finds little to admire in his fellow humans and becomes increasingly cynical and cruel as the novel progresses.


Auguste (oh-GEWST), Ferdinand’s father, an insurance clerk and amateur painter. Handsome, vain, pompous, and cruel, he is well educated but emotionally insecure. A failure both personally and professionally, he frequently criticizes his wife and son for their shortcomings while failing to recognize his own. Given to violent outbursts, he constantly abuses his wife and son verbally as well as physically when things do not go his way professionally. He reveals his reactionary politics by blaming his woes on the Freemasons and Jews.


Clémence (klay-MAHNS), Ferdinand’s mother, a shopkeeper. Well intentioned but physically and emotionally fragile, she spends most of her time unsuccessfully attempting to keep the peace between her husband and her son. Ambitious for Ferdinand, she helps him find jobs (which he never holds) and convinces Auguste to let him go to study at...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Céline draws heavily on his own life in his portrait of Ferdinand. Despite the many similarities in their temperaments and experiences, however, it must be remembered that Death on the Installment Plan is a work of fiction; the distinction between author and protagonist must be maintained. As a doctor, the adult Ferdinand is cranky, disillusioned, and embittered. There is a mutual disgust between him and his patients and neighbors. He suffers from insomnia, paranoia, and frequent bouts of hallucinations and delirium, the consequence of a wartime wound, of malaria contracted in Africa, and of his traumatic, unhappy childhood. He is also a poet and storyteller, who is preparing a mock medieval romance, The Legend of King Krogold, a work that tells of violence and death but is romantic enough to offer him some measure of escape from his drab and dismal life. As a child, Ferdinand devises similar stories of King Krogold. King Krogold is a medieval warrior; he defeats his enemy, Gwendor the Magnificent, and indiscriminately wreaks havoc on Gwendor’s subjects.

Young Ferdinand is tough, resilient, and filled with curiosity and a lust for life. These qualities help him survive the jungle in which he finds himself. He defends and protects himself with an ingrained hostility. As a boy, he beats his dog, treating it the way his father treats him. As an adolescent, he almost kills his father in a fight. He defecates in his pants to defy his parents and repel them. They perceive him as a total failure, stupid and obnoxious, when in fact he is lonely and in desperate need of comfort and encouragement. Though stubborn, violent, and filthy, he elicits sympathy in the reader, which is augmented by an awareness of his sensitivity and creative...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Flynn, James, ed. Understanding Céline, 1984.

Hanrez, Marc. Céline, 1961.

McCarthy, Patrick. Céline: A Critical Biography, 1975.

Nettlebeck, Colin W. “Journey to the End of Art: The Evolution of the Novels of Louis-Ferdinand Céline,” in PMLA. LXXXVII (January, 1972),pp. 80-89.

O’Connell, David. Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1976.

Solomon, Philip. “Céline’s Death on the Installment Plan: The Intoxication of Delirium,” in Yale French Studies. L (1974), pp. 191-203.

Thiher, Allen. Céline: The Novel as Delirium, 1972.

Woodcock, George. “Céline Revived,” in Tamarack Review. XLIV (1967), pp. 94-99.