Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 800


Johnnie, the narrator, a writer. At the age of thirty, Johnnie finds himself trapped behind an adult “face” created by others. Realizing this when critics attack his first book, he regresses to adolescence, becoming embroiled against his will in the novel’s bizarre plot as though in a dream of immaturity. Abducted and returned to school by the pedantic Professor Pimko, he is powerless to convince anyone that he does not belong there or to assert a truly mature individuality. Passive and irresolute in general, Johnnie rarely articulates his feelings, acting furtively instead. Boarding at the home of the Youthfuls, for example, he falls in love with Zutka but wages a campaign of irrational behavior against her charms, finally bringing about a general brawl. In a world in which meaningful relationships are impossible, once Johnnie subverts the social forms that prevent genuine human contact, escape is his only recourse. At the novel’s end, he runs away from his uncle’s estate.

Professor T. Pimko

Professor T. Pimko, an educator. A ridiculous, bald little man in striped pants and tailcoats, he is so self-assured and overbearingly pedantic that he renders Johnnie helplessly boyish. He leads Johnnie off to school and later to the Youthfuls’ home. Pimko’s authority is shattered only after he is smitten by Zutka.


Pylaszczkiewicz (pee-LAHSH-kah-vihch), called Siphon, Johnnie’s schoolmate. Leader of the idealistic, purist faction at school, he engages in a duel of grimaces with Mientus. Victorious, he is then physically assaulted and his innocence violated through his ears, with fatal results.


Mientus, Johnnie’s schoolmate. Leader of the school faction denying youth’s innocence, he is the most innocent of all, though he spouts obscenities and engages in the duel with Siphon that freezes his face in an ugly grimace. Obsessed with a privileged boy’s notions of stable-lad purity, he runs off with Johnnie to the country, where his repeated attempts to fraternize with the servant Bert disrupt the social system.


Kopeida, Johnnie’s schoolmate and rival for Zutka. Extremely self-possessed, he stands aloof from the factional strife at school and resists Johnnie’s friendly approaches. Later, drawn to Zutka’s bedroom by a forged note, he loses his composure.

Zutka Youthful

Zutka Youthful, Johnnie’s beloved. Sixteen years old, slim, and athletic, she is the model of the stylish modern schoolgirl, ignorant, insolent, and passionate for life. With her seductive thighs reducing all men to slavish adolescents, she glories in youth’s dominance, a tyranny Johnnie can ridicule and ruffle but not undermine.

Mrs. Mary Youthful

Mrs. Mary Youthful, Zutka’s mother. Cultivated, fat, and high-minded, she is involved in all the right causes and embraces all the right ideas. Wielding modernity in her eagerness to be a sister rather than a mother, she encourages Zutka’s youthfulness in the most mindless ways and despises Johnnie’s self-conscious posing.

Mr. Victor Youthful

Mr. Victor Youthful, an engineer and architect. Tanned, informal, and vacuous, he at first vies with his wife in spouting platitudes and urging his daughter to be modern. Johnnie’s odd behavior reduces him to a depraved, gibbering buffoon, but he sobers up when he catches Pimko and Kopeida in Zutka’s room.

Aunt Hurlecka

Aunt Hurlecka (huhr-LEH-skah), Johnnie’s aunt. An oblivious woman of suffocating kindness, she constantly doles out sweets and reminiscences to keep everyone childish.

Uncle Edward

Uncle Edward, an estate owner. Tall, thin, and delicate, he is the epitome of the bored, pampered, and insensitive aristocrat who responds to others in terms of class. His own social position rests on the exploitation of indispensable servants he despises and fears, and his brutal treatment of Bert at the end results in a rebellion.


Alfred, Johnnie’s cousin. A budding young aristocrat whose identity is determined by family and class, he shows little interest in Johnnie until the latter slaps Bert. His ludicrous involvement with an older peasant woman points out the childishness of the landed gentry.


Isabel, Johnnie’s cousin, an ordinary girl seemingly incapable of discussing anything except her innumerable ailments. Her youthful passions are aroused in the end when Johnnie abducts her to cover his flight.


Bert, a stable boy. This rustic youth attracts Mientus’ attentions, a violation of social form that causes Bert to mock his “betters” and the system. His eventual defense of Mientus precipitates the novel’s final outbreak of chaos.


Philifor and


Anti-Philifor, rival professors. Characters in an absurdist fable, they represent the dialectical struggle between synthesis and analysis. Anti-Philifor’s attempt to dissolve his rival’s wife into her parts is countered by Philifor’s synthesizing of the higher self of the other’s mistress, all of which leads to a duel in which the women’s extremities are shot off.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

Witold Gombrowicz’s characters very clearly reflect his skeptical view of life and the human personality. In one sense, the author does not believe that there is such a thing as “character”—if what is meant by that term is a fixed personal essence, a set of qualities that do not change. The author quite explicitly rejects what he would call the romantic notion of the self as a unique entity. Human beings, in his view, are the sum of what has been said about them, their actions, and environmental influences. For example, when the schoolboys argue and fight with one another, Johnnie observes, “All of them were the slaves of the faces they were making.” Human behavior, in other words, is not guided by some internal motivation. On the contrary, people act the way they do because of the behavior that has been imposed upon them or that they impose upon themselves.

Thus, Johnnie’s efforts to attract Zuta are a dismal failure. She has been programmed to be entirely self-assured. She knows what the correct behavior is, and when Johnnie comes into her room unannounced, all she can think to say is that he has transgressed the boundaries of proper behavior. She never lets down her guard, and he never is able to elicit even one spontaneous action from her.

Professor Pimko is the architect of this modern behavior. He tries to keep all of his students “youthful” by insisting on their innocence. He fits them with fannies, or little behinds, because he wants them to feel insecure and immature. Gombrowicz depicts modern schooling—indeed much of modern life—as demeaning and deforming the personality. The lascivious Pimko is hardly mature himself, and Johnnie relishes tricking him into visiting Zuta’s bedroom at night and then making sure that her parents catch him at it. Professors are no more mature than their students—a point Gombrowicz emphasizes by including two parables in his novel about learned men who are rivals and whose behavior is as childish as the schoolboy fights depicted in the first part of the novel.

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