Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424
Foma Gordeyev (FOH-muh gohr-DEH-yehf), the son of a tough trader who owns barges and tugs and speculates on the exchange. Foma, wishing to know the meaning of life, has trouble accepting capitalistic views; he denounces local moneyed dignitaries by shouting reminders of their unsavory pasts for all to hear at a ship launching. He is hustled off to an insane asylum. Released, he is a drunken, broken man who wanders about the town, out of his mind and in rags. He is befriended only by his godfather’s daughter, a childhood friend, who gives him a small room.
Mayakin (mah-YAH-kihn), Foma Gordeyev’s godfather, in whose house Foma lived until he was six years old. Mayakin takes a personal interest in his godson’s life and fortune. He advises, and intervenes; finally, he takes a power of attorney over Gordeyev’s holdings and sends Foma to a mental hospital after he makes his outraged speech exposing the lives of respectable townsmen.
Liuboff (LEW-bof), Mayakin’s daughter, Foma’s friend from childhood. She never understands him but tries to do so by discussing ideas with him. She gives him sanctuary after his release from the asylum.
Ignat Gordeyev (ihg-NAHT), Foma’s father, a ruthless, thoroughgoing trader who makes his fortune by hard work and cunning. He falls under the influence of a woman who persuades him to give much of his wealth to charity. He dies a foolish, confused man.
Smolin (smoh-LIHN) and
Ezhoff (ehzh-OHF), Foma’s school friends. Ezhoff was poor but intelligent; Smolin, fat, rich, undistinguished. Ezhoff becomes a quick-witted journalist who makes revolutionary speeches to laborers. Foma and Ezhoff do not argue about politics; they simply drink together. Smolin becomes a sharp trader, the betrothed of Liuboff.
Sasha (SAH-shuh), a river girl who, along with her sister, fascinates Foma. He has a wild, carousing affair with her, but she abandons him because his philosophical speculations bore her.
Madame Medynsky (meh-DIHN-skihy), the guiding hand in Ignat’s philanthropic ventures. She is cosmopolitan and sophisticated, and willing to bestow her favors where they will do the most good. Foma, deeply attracted to her, is disappointed when he thinks she does not take him seriously.
Natalya (mah-TAH-lyah), a handsome young woman, Ignat’s second wife and Foma’s mother. She dies soon after his birth.
Aunt Anfisa (ahn-FIH-suh), the relative who cares for Foma after he leaves Mayakin’s house. Her fantastic adventure stories greatly impressed him when he was young.
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