The End of the Road

by John Barth

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Characters Discussed

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Jacob Horner

Jacob Horner, the narrator of the novel, a thirty-year-old academic who has completed his course work and passed the oral exams for a master’s degree in English at The Johns Hopkins University. Stricken by an inexplicable paralysis in the Baltimore bus station, Horner is rescued by the Doctor, who puts him through a course of bizarre therapies and then dispatches him to teach grammar at the Wicomico State Teachers College on the eastern shore of Maryland. Horner, a thoroughly existentialist man, has no fixed beliefs and no real persona; as he admits, his life is a succession of roles, many of them contradictory. He is capable of holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously. Horner responds to the immediate situation and, left to himself, is capable of sinking into mere existence because he has no true inner self.

Joe Morgan

Joe Morgan, a man in his early thirties who teaches ancient, European, and American history at Wicomico State Teachers College. Described by Horner as a “tall, bespectacled, athletic young man, terribly energetic,” Morgan clearly is a star at the backwater college. He has a bachelor’s degree in literature and a master’s in philosophy from Columbia University, and he has completed all work toward his Ph.D. in history, except for his dissertation, at The Johns Hopkins University. In contrast to Horner, Morgan has a definite philosophy, which he claims is thoroughly pragmatic and which he pursues to its ultimate, logical conclusions, even when those conclusions conflict with morality or convention. Because he insists on living “coherently,” with every action and event rationally explained, Morgan has a certain rigid inflexibility of mind and spirit.

Renée (Rennie) Morgan

Renée (Rennie) Morgan, Joe’s wife and mother of their two young sons. A large-framed woman with short blonde hair and brown eyes, she is athletic. A particularly fine horsewoman, she teaches Jacob Horner to ride. She felt as if she were “nothing at all” until she met Joe Morgan. Although Joe was at first drawn to her self-sufficiency, he systematically, if perhaps unconsciously, transformed her thinking into a replica of his own philosophy. She lacks his strength of will; for this reason, and perhaps out of an unrealized need for revenge, she commits adultery with Jacob Horner.

The Doctor

The Doctor, a mysterious African American medical man. He is small, dapper, and in his mid-fifties, bald and with a greying mustache. The Doctor finds Horner in a state of paralysis in a Baltimore bus station and insists that the younger man undergo a series of unconventional therapies at “The Farm,” a facility the Doctor operates. These include mythotherapy, in which the patient uses the events of everyday life to invent a story and create a character that he or she will play. Mythotherapy appeals to Horner’s existentialist view and is cited by him repeatedly as the cause of his actions.

Peggy Rankin

Peggy Rankin, an English teacher who is about forty years old. Horner picks her up one afternoon while at the beach. After casually seducing her, Horner drifts out of her life until he is sexually aroused. He contacts her when he needs to find an abortionist after Rennie Morgan becomes pregnant. Peggy at first allows him back into her life, even though she feels humiliated and used; later, she rejects him completely.

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