The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The thief and ruffian who is the subject of The Executioner’s Song was, despite his involvement in felonies and in a landmark legal case, quite unexceptional. Yet, under the scrutiny of 1,056 pages (pared, Mailer claims, from his fifteen thousand pages of notes), a five-pound volume that, as a representation of nearly two hundred human pounds, is nevertheless necessarily reductive, Gilmore’s existence begins to cast a spell. Appropriately, a strong possibility exists that Gilmore’s father was the illegitimate son of magician Harry Houdini, and with each detail that Mailer meticulously assembles, the story seems more and more bizarre.

In one of many letters that Gilmore sends to Nicole, he describes a Russian portrait of Jesus: “No halo, no radiant beam from heaven above. Just this extra-ordinary man—this ordinary human being who made himself extra-ordinary and tried to tell us all that it was nothing more than any of us could do.” Perhaps this is an expression of Gilmore’s messianic delusions, but it is also suggestive of the transforming power of the literary gaze. Mailer examines the mundane existence of an unskilled, insolvent, and muddled middle American, but he soon finds himself involved with the occult.

Among his cast of characters are those who subscribe to reincarnation, automatic writing, Ouija boards, numerology, and some of the more exotic tenets of Mormonism. Gilmore writes poetry, believes that he was...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gary Gilmore

Gary Gilmore, the protagonist, a convicted murderer executed at the age of thirty-five for two brutal, unprovoked murders. Gilmore is a rough-featured criminal who has spent most of his life in prison. He is highly intelligent, with an artistic bent. He also has quasi-religious convictions. A complicated person, he shows little remorse for his crimes but insists that the state of Utah execute him for the murders he committed, even though he clearly is afraid to die. Gilmore’s steadfast request that his death sentence be carried out makes him the focus of enormous publicity.

Nicole Baker Barrett

Nicole Baker Barrett, Gilmore’s nineteen-year-old lover. She is a beautiful woman who already has been married twice. She does not seem to know how to control her life. She is nearly as self-destructive as Gilmore and almost succeeds in killing herself after she and Gilmore make a suicide pact. Although Gilmore manipulates her in various ways, there is no question that he loves her and that they share a bond that cannot be broken by his imprisonment. Nicole becomes Gilmore’s inspiration, his reason for writing more than a thousand pages explaining his feelings about her and about his life.

Brenda Nicol

Brenda Nicol, Gilmore’s good-hearted cousin who helps to get him released from prison shortly before the period in which he kills two men. Brenda believes that if she can...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Characters / Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

It is most unusual for Mailer to have his characters reveal themselves almost entirely through dialogue. Descriptions of characters are...

(The entire section is 197 words.)