The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Like the nameless narrator-hero of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), Eddie Lawson is a man who attempts to complete himself through language. He returns home to his mother and sister because he feels “at last . . . I have something to tell you.” Filled with a sense of the truth of life, Eddie longs to share this truth, which he defines as a need for something outside oneself, with the people he loves. Eddie’s urge to speak himself, to articulate his inner life, however, is countered by his inbred fear of change. That this quality is crucial to Eddie’s character is evident in his wish to transform time into “the space between a glance away and back”; not only does this notion reveal Eddie’s fear of the medium of change, time, but also it serves as the title for his story. Eddie’s desire to spatialize time and render it inactive is paralleled in his intellectual tendency to analyze his life. He sees himself as two Eddies, one of the day and one of the night; he identifies most urgently with the dark or shadow Eddie, the one overwhelmed by the excruciating terrors of life. Locked within his head (both his most prominent physical feature and the realm of his intellectual faculty), Eddie’s inner life—which seeks articulation in his voice—is unable to “master the first word” or make a beginning at reaching outside himself. His hope for reunion with his family, with Alice, and within himself thus never comes, and his last words, “I cannot move. I cannot speak . . .” define his moral stasis.

Attracted initially to the primitive energies sensed in Eddie’s intensity and his blackness, Robert Thurley comes to feel an aesthetic, intellectual bond with the younger man. Like Eddie, Thurley is burdened by painful memories of the past—especially his sexual victimization at the hands of his former wife—memories that endow him with the compulsion to verbalize his particular truth. Also like Eddie, Thurley finds that no one understands him, least of all the literature students to whom he lectures on the “inimitable circularity” of tragic drama. It is appropriate that Thurley’s subject is tragedy and that he sees its action as circular, for he, like Eddie, is entrapped in a tragic vision of life that takes him nowhere. Also like Eddie, Thurley fears change. Despite his flirtation with life—with what he calls “his night world”— Thurley remains a vicarious spectator. Only when he has “something to say” to Eddie (a local pool shark’s message that Eddie is a troublemaker and had better leave town) does Thurley realize he has lived a lie; only then does he attempt to break through his isolation and make human contact. His urge to act fails, however, doomed by his belief that completion is only illusory; the will to save Eddie is thus never communicated, never brought into the open.


(The entire section is 1166 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Edward (Eddie) Lawson

Edward (Eddie) Lawson, a thirty-year-old black drug addict whose jobs have included moving pianos and sorting mail for the post office. His high forehead, with its taut, shiny skin, shows his skull beneath, with a palpitating vein that in anger thrusts itself forward. Eddie returns home on Easter morning from a drug rehabilitation program to find himself an outsider both at home and in his old community. He feels that he is somehow responsible for his mother falling down the stairs on the day he returns home. He tries to come to terms with his anger and guilt, getting little support except from another outsider, Robert Thurley.

Robert Thurley

Robert Thurley, a middle-aged professor of comparative literature. An unhappy marriage, alcoholism, and frustration from teaching uninterested students all have turned Thurley to homosexual encounters with young black men. He encounters Eddie both before and after Eddie returns from his rehabilitation program. He is impressed by Eddie’s intensity and somehow feels connected to Eddie. On Easter day, he tries to save Eddie from returning to drugs. His nonsexual encounter with Eddie leads to a rediscovery of the dignity within himself.

William “Brother” Small

William “Brother” Small, Eddie’s best friend and a man of the streets. An albino black man with horsey features, pink eyes, pimples, a bald head, and a lispy...

(The entire section is 593 words.)