The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The three main characters of Dog Soldiers are Converse, Hicks, and Marge. Although he initiates the action, Converse is unable to control it. As a result, he is the main focus for the author’s view of America as the self-incriminating victim of its own ignorance and self-deception regarding Vietnam. Converse’s verdict on the Vietnam experience applies with equal validity to his own attempt to authorize a specific course of events: “Nobody knows. . . . That’s the principle we were defending over there. That’s why we fought the war.”

In terms of individual experience, however, such ignorance is the basis of Converse’s extreme vulnerability and hapless impotence. Those two aspects of his condition are confirmed by his falling afoul of the law. His actions reveal rather than overcome the element which “morally speaking . . . was the basis of his life”: fear. “It was the medium through which he perceived his own soul, the formula through which he could confirm his own existence.” The impoverished quality of his actions also confirms what he experienced under fire in Vietnam: “Existence was a trap; the testy patience of things as they are might be exhausted at any moment.”

Nevertheless, when faced with the choice of whether to enter the trap, Converse decides in the affirmative. Thus, he becomes “the celebrated living dog, preferred over dead lions.” He chooses “to begin again from nowhere . . . to soldier on. Living dogs lived. It was all they knew.” Converse’s choice, and the survival which eventually results from it, is, in the poisonous atmosphere of the novel, a triumph of a kind, one which is commemorated in the novel’s title....

(The entire section is 694 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Converse

John Converse, a journalist covering the Vietnam War. Timid and paranoid, Converse once aspired to be a serious writer, but now he squanders his talent by writing for Elmer Bender’s sensationalist tabloid Nightbeat. He plots to smuggle three kilograms of pure heroin from Vietnam to the United States with the help of his friend Ray Hicks; however, Converse loses control of the action he starts. When he returns to California, he discovers that both Hicks and Marge have disappeared, taking the smuggled heroin with them. Converse is tortured by two hoodlums who work for the corrupt lawman Antheil, and he is forced to pursue his wife and friend to retrieve the heroin. In the end, Converse abandons the heroin to the brutal lawmen and escapes with Marge.

Ray Hicks

Ray Hicks, a merchant marine, drug smuggler, and self-taught mystic. A believer in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Zen, Hicks takes risks and is indifferent to the possible consequences of those risks, as when he smuggles the heroin to the United States. When his meeting with Converse’s wife, Marge, is interrupted by Antheil’s brutal agents, Hicks and Marge flee for their own safety, taking the heroin with them. Later, Hicks attempts to sell the drugs to Eddie Peace, a sleazy Hollywood pusher, but the plan backfires. In a second attempt to get rid of the heroin, Hicks takes Marge to see his old guru, Dieter, who lives near...

(The entire section is 595 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although the protagonist, John Converse, surfaces in the novel as the primary focus of attention, the spotlight is shared by Marge,...

(The entire section is 240 words.)