Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


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...

(The entire section is 800 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.