Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 726
Sam Dodsworth, a wealthy automobile manufacturer from Zenith. Retired from business, with ample money and leisure, he takes his wife Fran on what is planned as a long trip to Europe. He is eager to see the places he has read so much about, but he finds it difficult to adjust to European life and impossible to please his wife, whose restlessness and social climbing, as well as her endless criticism of him, get more and more on his nerves. No sooner does he begin to enjoy one country than she wants to move on to another. She begins to consider herself a European and constantly reminds him that he is an uncultivated American businessman who cannot appreciate what he sees. The climax comes in Germany, when she announces that she wants a divorce so that she can marry Count von Obersdorf, an impecunious Austrian nobleman. Sam leaves her in Berlin to arrange for the divorce. In Paris, he is so lonely that he drifts into a brief affair with Fernande Azerede. Tiring of this affair, he goes to Venice and there meets a Mrs. Cortright, an attractive widow whom he had met casually before. They become interested in each other and are considering marriage when Fran writes that Obersdorf has declined to marry her. Out of a sense of duty, Sam returns to his temporarily penitent wife, but on the voyage to America he realizes that he can no longer endure her continual criticism. He finally breaks with her, to return to Italy and Mrs. Cortright, with whom he can find happiness. He is a portrait of the American trying desperately to understand the older culture of Europe, which he both admires and dislikes.
Frances (Fran) Dodsworth
Frances (Fran) Dodsworth, Sam’s wife, the daughter of a rich brewer. She is spoiled, selfish, and superficial, and she is constantly critical of her husband, whose good qualities she can never see. She demands attention and yet is insulted when the attention becomes serious. Thus she encourages Major Lockert, then is furious when he makes love to her. In Germany, she meets the aristocratic Count von Obersdorf, whom she wants to marry. Sam agrees to a divorce, but Fran finds that Obersdorf’s mother considers her “déclassée,” and the count is eager to escape from the marriage. She appeals to Sam to forgive her, but during the trip home she resumes her nagging criticisms, thus driving him away forever. She is last seen in New York, a lonely and pathetic figure. She is Lewis’ bitter portrait of the American woman.
Brent Dodsworth, their son, a student at Yale University and a future go-getter.
Emily Dodsworth, their daughter. Married, she no longer needs her father.
Edith Cortright, the widow of an Englishman. She is sincere and dependable, the exact opposite of Fran. She and Sam plan to marry.
Major Clyde Lockert
Major Clyde Lockert, an Englishman whom the Dodsworths meet on shipboard and who introduces them to English social life. Attentive to Fran, he infuriates her by making love to her.
Count Kurt von Obersdorf
Count Kurt von Obersdorf, an impoverished Austrian, head of one of the greatest families in Europe. Fran wants to divorce Sam to marry Obersdorf, but the count ends the affair when his mother objects to the marriage.
Renée de Pénable
Renée de Pénable (reh-NAY deh pay-NAHBL), a mysterious international character who lives on rich Americans. She completely fools Fran.
Fernande Azerede (fehr-NAHND ah-zeh-REHD), a Parisian wanton with whom Sam has a brief affair.
Tub Pearson, Sam’s best friend, a typical Babbitt.
Matey Pearson, his wife. Crude but warm-hearted and intelligent, she sees through Fran perfectly.
Ross Ireland, a journalist, whose function is to speak the author’s scathing comments on America.
Lord Herndon and
Lady Herndon, Lockert’s cousins in London, who give a dinner party at which Fran revels in snobbery while Sam feels completely out of place.
Hurd, London manager of Sam’s former company, who educates him concerning the pleasures of living abroad.
Arnold Israel, a Jewish playboy with whom Fran has an affair.
The Biedners, Fran’s cousins in Berlin, through whom she meets Count von Obersdorf.
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