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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 868


Rory, the protagonist of “Emerald City,” is a photographer’s assistant living in New York City. Despite being from Chicago, he describes feeling self-conscious that he is “still too California” with his “blond surfer mane.” As someone who works with both a famous fashion photographer and young models, Rory displays a mild obsession with appearance, but overall, he has a kind and sensitive personality. His compassion is most evident in his relationship with Stacey; his affection for her, in many ways, drives the story’s narrative.

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Rory idolizes his glamorous and successful boss, Vesuvi, although his devotion to Stacey dictates how he treats the other characters. For example, he acts vindictively towards Anouschka, a Russian model, because of how she belittles Stacey at dinner with Vesuvi and other models; however, this vindictiveness also accompanies the pity he feels for her. Consequently, Rory acts in an oversensitive way towards Stacey’s experience as a “failing model,” constantly jumping in to defend her, console her, and sympathize with her struggles.

Significantly, Rory’s relationship with New York reflects his character. Throughout the story, he observes his surroundings with distinct sensibility, such as when he senses an “air of promise and abandonment” at twilight. His fondness for the city is seen through his vivid descriptions of the characteristic sights, sounds, and people that fill the diverse neighborhoods. Concurrently, he depicts New York as lonely: he sees it as “a place that glittered from a distance even when you reached it.” As the story progresses, parallels emerge between Rory’s relationship with magnificent yet isolating force that is the city and his relationship with Stacey. Having pronounced her as someone he “adored beyond all reason,” it becomes clear how afraid he is of losing her. Hence, near the end of the story, Rory begins to realize that, despite his apparent success compared to hers, he may actually be more lost than Stacey.


Stacey is a struggling model living in New York City with Rory. As “a failing model” in their shared industry, Rory is constantly worried about how her lack of success affects her. Nonetheless, Stacey’s demeanor is prideful and confident; in confronting her dwindling modeling career, she explains that her look is “too commercial” and that she is not “ugly enough,” because the current trend in fashion modeling is to hire “gorgeous, mythical monsters.”

Stacey moved to New York from Cincinnati, where she was a gymnast in high school, with dreams of travelling the world as a model. Because she is “the sort of girl for whom nothing happened by accident,” Rory comes to believe that Stacey does not belong in the modeling world, and it hurts him to “watch her struggle.” Regardless of her challenging situation, Stacey has a fearless demeanor, and she emerges as wise beyond her years. Accordingly, she expresses optimism in her future at the end of the story, asserting, “if it doesn’t work… then I’ll see the world some other way.”


Vesuvi is a well-regarded fashion photographer and Rory’s boss. Rory expresses deep admiration for Vesuvi, describing him as “blessed with a marvelous paunch.” It is clear that Vesuvi is a successful photographer who enjoys the affluent lifestyle that his success has afforded him. He has an extravagant style, and Rory explains that he is “sphinxlike, olive-skinned” and that he “[wears] high-heeled boots that Rory [finds] spectacular.” Because of Vesuvi’s nonchalance and soft-spoken yet spontaneous mannerisms, he has an overpowering presence, often coming off as judgmental and snobby. Rory explains how Vesuvi judges models based on whether or not they have worked with him and essentially treats women as spectacles.


A young Russian model, Anouschka is a mildly antagonistic character in the story. Rory describes her as a “moody girl” who has risen “to the height of New York fashion” from “some dour Siberian town.” When Rory introduces her, he portrays her as flirtatious and intimidating, well-read and intelligent; though in one instance, when he points out that she incorrectly identified the author of War and Peace, she is so humiliated that she stops talking to him. During the dinner scene with Vesuvi, Stacey, and the other models, Anouschka affirms that she will be on the cover of Elle Magazine. Because of her recognizable face, she has a spellbinding effect on those around her, and Rory depicts her as “exotic” and “dragonlike” with “charred eyes.”

Anouschka exhibits emotional instability and spiteful personality traits; for example, after she smugly questions Stacey on which countries she has been to, Rory explains his disdain for her; he sees her as the representation of the “ugly beauty” so desired in the fashion industry. While Anouschka is clearly sensitive, Rory is surprised when, before she leaves the table, she tells him that she hates him.


Charles is Rory’s roommate and a meticulous stylist. At the end of the story, he is cooking a steak in their apartment when Stacey and Rory come home. Even though Rory is the one with the “blond surfer’s mane,” Charles is actually from Santa Cruz, California. Charles is balding, and Rory admires his “look of hardship and triumph” and expresses envy at his brazen honesty in verbalizing his emotions.

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