Characters

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488

There are many characters in Great Jones Street, but the narrator, Bucky Wunderlick, his agent Globke, the megalomaniacal head of Happy Valley, Bohack, and the wizard of drug dealing, Dr. Pepper, are the primary antagonists. Bucky's sometime girlfriend, Opel, plays a significant part in the plot, primarily by dying, and delivers a thematically important monologue about the relationship between "identity" and the phenomenal world. That sequence is scarily terminated by one of DeLillo's stunning but simple sentences: "When I turned from the window, Opel was dead."

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Globke, the head of Transparanoia, is a nightmare version of a nightclub comedian's description of his agent. His attention acknowledges only moneymaking options; he has no personal or aesthetic interest in the artists he manages; he is a monster of manipulation. In an especially revealing moment, he telephones Bucky on a line Bucky thought was inoperative: "They did it from their office. The phone company. It wasn't broke, understand? It was just turned off. So we had them turn it on." The bland assumption of the right to intrude on another's privacy, represented by the nearly universal notion that everyone must have a telephone in order to satisfy everyone else's "right" to call them, is typical of Globke's belief that reciprocal rights to manipulate are the foundation of business relationships.

Dr. Pepper is an amusing parody of the "genius" — self-proclaimed, self-validated — who preys parasitically on a culture that has no basis for understanding or evaluating his claims, but that becomes dependent on him in order to pursue its own fantasies. While Pepper depends on his reputation for genius, Bohack depends on his ruthless pursuit of a reputation for charismatic leadership to sustain his power in the Happy Valley commune.

An enigmatic, and probably unassimilated, character is Fenig, a failed writer who lives in the loft above Bucky's on Great Jones Street. He is a throwback to a pre-1960s type, (though many living people continue to live as he does), and gives DeLillo opportunities to comment from a completely different perspective on the obsessive paranoia — systematic paranoia of Bucky's world. Fenig is truly threatened, and has evolved comical survival techniques appropriate to an earlier age. His notion of fame and fortune is contemporary with that of Thomas Wolfe, or perhaps Henry Miller, and about as bankable in the 1960s.

Bucky's voice tells readers, on the first page of the novel, "Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide." While Bucky's fate, in this novel, brings him close to confirming this law, it is an ironic confirmation, since he passes though his "death" to a new freedom that makes it possible for him to choose the life he wants. It would be foolish to consider the conclusion of the novel a positive development, but the last pages are the first that are free from the constraints of all the earlier ones.

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