Character List

Roy Dillon—the novel’s main character, a con man who is murdered late in the book.

Lilly Dillon—a con woman and Roy’s mother, who gave birth to him at 14.

Mr. Simms—the desk clerk at the hotel where Roy lives.

Moira Langtry—a con woman, and Roy’s somewhat older lover.

Carol Roberg—a nurse hired to care for Roy; she is briefly his lover.

Bobo Justus—Lilly’s brutal con-man boss.

Cole Langley— Moira’s mentor and former lover; he is also known as “The Farmer” and other aliases.

Charles Grable—the manager of Moira’s apartment; she sleeps with him to pay rent.

Mr. Carter—a homely but honest man working at a jewelry shop.

Percival/Perk Kaggs—Roy’s new boss at his sales job; he tries to convince Roy to become a supervisor.

Bert—a bartender who helps Roy.

Mr. Chadwick—the Treasury agent investigating Lilly’s (but actually Moira’s) death.

Mintz—the man who taught Roy how to grift.

Character Analysis

The novel opens by following Roy Dillon through a con and its fateful follow-up. He might therefore be considered the main character, except that he dies just before the novel’s end. Roy nevertheless is the most fully realized character in The Grifters and the one readers get to know best. Roy is a young, good-looking Caucasian man who was essentially raised to be a grifter. Born to a very young mother who never really behaved as a parent to him and, more importantly, never really lived an example of upright life for him to follow, Roy has never known a “straight” life.

That said, Roy seems to have both an innate charm—which makes it easier for him to run his cons—and a moderately soft heart. While his habit is to treat all people as potential marks to be scammed, he expresses some affection for a number of them in the book. Likewise, while he was raised to think of working for a living as the worst fate in the world, he nonetheless is good at sales and, more surprisingly, seems to want his life to work out well. When he sits down with Perk Kaggs late in the novel and the two of them analyze how and why the company sales force is not earning as well it should, Roy genuinely provides an analysis. In another context, he might have been a good man and had a chance at a straight life. He even shows that he can be fooled when he does not realize that Moira is a grifter until she exposes her past to him. However, because Lilly raised him, Roy is forever marked. The depth of her influence on him can be seen in his attraction to Moira and, late in the book, to Lilly herself: he is sexually attracted to his mother, and his desires fix on her and her type.

If her son is an example of someone who was raised to be a grifter, Lilly Dillon is an example of someone who became a grifter because there was so little to attract her to the straight life. Her family was “white trash,” and she married a thirty-year-old man when she was...

(The entire section is 814 words.)