Characters

Neil Klugman

Neil Klugman is a twenty-three-year-old Jewish man living with his aunt and uncle in Newark, New Jersey. He is from a working-class family and has a modest job at the Newark Public Library. His last name means "clever man," but as the novella progresses, it becomes clear that he is really a loser. He has an ill-fated affair with Brenda Patimkin, a Jewish girl whose well-to-do family has moved to the suburbs from Newark. She and Neil meet at a country club while she is home visiting on summer vacation. She is still a student at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is several years younger than Neil when the affair begins. Neil describes Brenda as "a sailor’s dream of a Polynesian maiden, albeit one with prescription sunglasses" and thinks of her family's wealth as an ideal, subtly coveting their home, possessions, and social status. On their second date, Brenda invites him over to have dinner with her family, and even though he likes them well enough, he feels some ambivalence about their apparent readiness to assimilate into American culture.

Neil and Brenda go out together every night for the next two weeks. Brenda then invites him to her family's house in Short Hills, New Jersey, for his week-long summer vacation. Mr. and Mrs. Patimkin give Neil the guest room, which allows the lovers to maintain a veneer of propriety. Neil sneaks into Brenda's room every night that week, and eventually Neil begins to question if his feelings for Brenda stem more from lust than love. Nevertheless, he agrees to stay for a second week and attend Brenda's brother Ron's wedding as her date. Ron is a basketball star and graduating senior from Ohio State University. He surprises his whole family by announcing his engagement to Harriet, his college girlfriend, and their intention to marry over Labor Day weekend. In the midst of the chaos of arranging the wedding, Neil asks Brenda to get a diaphragm. She hesitates but eventually agrees. At the wedding, Brenda's uncle Leo warns Neil not to ruin the good thing he has going with Brenda, unaware that Neil has already done just that by insisting she get a diaphragm. Brenda later asks Neil to...

(The entire section is 895 words.)

Characters

Neil, the novella's narrator, is, in spite of the fact that readers hear his voice throughout, a difficult character to know. He is himself filled with doubt about what exactly he wants or expects from Brenda. It is important to remember Neil's age when reading Goodbye, Columbus. Though he never seems quite willing to admit it, many of his actions stem from his youth. He acknowledges that much of his attraction to Brenda is driven by his lust, but how much of the stubbornness and suspicion that end the relationship are also the consequences of youth? Nevertheless, Neil is an immensely likeable character. He is at once more romantic and more practical than those who surround him.

Readers will probably find it more difficult to decide what they think of Brenda in the end. Is she the spoiled princess Neil believes her to be? Or is she a more complex character who only accepts her parents' generosity out of practicality? Asking questions like these lead to readers asking themselves what sort of people they might be in Brenda's position. Brenda also provides Roth with the opportunity to explore the ever tricky relationships between children and their parents. Fitting into a somewhat stereotypical paradigm, Brenda gets along splendidly with her father while fighting constantly with her mother.

Ron, Brenda's brother, represents, to Neil's imagination, the sacrifice he would need to make in order to fully commit to his new lover. When Neil runs...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Characters

Carlota
Carlotta is the Patimkin's maid. That the Patimkins have a maid is an indication of their wealth.

Harriet Ehrlich
Harriet Ehrlich is the fiancée of Brenda's brother Ron. Harriet arrives at the Patimkin household several days before the wedding. Neil describes her as ''a young lady singularly unconscious of a motive in others or herself. All was all surfaces, and she seemed a perfect match for Ron, and too for the Patimkins.’’

Aunt Gladys
Gladys is Neil's aunt, and Neil lives at her house. She is indirectly critical of his relationship with Brenda, based on her awareness of the vast socioeconomic class differences between the families.

Doris Klugman
Doris Klugman is Neil's cousin, who first invited him to the country club swimming pool where he met Brenda.

Neil Klugman
Neil Klugman is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Neil's first-person narration tells the story of his relationship with Brenda from his own perspective. The story is one of self-discovery for Neil, as their relationship is characterized by their difference in socioeconomic status. Neil, who is twenty-three, lives with his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max in Newark, New Jersey, and works at a library. He first meets Brenda at a country club swimming pool, to which his cousin Doris has invited him. He later calls Brenda and meets her at a tennis court. The next day, he is invited to dinner at her parents' house. Brenda's upper-middle-class suburban Jewish family is in stark contrast to the Neil's lower-middle-class Jewish family. After several weeks of dating, Brenda invites Neil to stay a week at her parents' house. While he is there, he and Brenda secretly spend the night together in her room. She invites him to stay another week, at the end of which she goes back to college for the fall. After several weeks without seeing one another, they arrange to spend a weekend together at a hotel, but, when they meet, Brenda tells him that her parents have discovered the diaphragm she had been using with him. As Brenda feels that, because of her parents' reaction, they cannot continue their relationship, Neil leaves the hotel and heads back home and to his job.

The Little Boy
This is the little African-American boy, described by the outdated term "colored," who daily visits the library to look at the book of Gauguin paintings of native women in Tahiti. He appears in Neil's dream, as they both drift away from Tahiti on a ship. Neil identifies with the boy because they are both preoccupied with a fantasy of inhabiting a paradise which in reality they cannot reach—for the boy it's Tahiti, for Neil it is the upper-middle-class world of Brenda's family.

Uncle Max
Max is Neil's uncle, and Neil lives at his house. Uncle Max does not appear in the story, except as Neil and Neil's aunt refer to him.

John McKee
John McKee is Neil's co-worker at the library, whom Neil doesn't like. Neil also refers to him as John McRubberhands.

Ben Patimkin
Ben...

(The entire section is 1274 words.)