Character List

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 168

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...

(The entire section contains 982 words.)

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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

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 814

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 only thirteen, giving birth when she was fourteen. When her new husband died a month later, her pattern was set: Lilly would act to take care of Lilly and Lilly only, using her looks and brains, but never working and never expecting life to keep going well. She moved quickly into grifting; the crime community of Baltimore, where she was living, essentially groomed her for her chosen life. As a mother, she was a bizarre failure. She mocked Roy throughout his youth, competed with him for food, and essentially rewarded only selfish, materialistic behavior. This changed only when he grew into adolescence; as he became a sexual being, Lilly’s innate but not ethical sexuality focused on him. She wanted her own son. Despite this considerable dysfunction, it is Lilly who is alive at the end of the novel, suggesting that she is the character most adapted to the world they live in.

Moira Langtry is Roy’s lover. Several years older than Roy (she is close to Lilly in age as well as in appearance), she is a glossy, predatory woman. Her essential character is revealed in the games she plays with Roy—sometimes showing her interest, sometimes withholding—and especially in the ideas she reveals in Chapters 10 and 20. In Chapter 10, Moira’s review of the social mores on display in the restaurant around her show her fundamental contempt for all society; she thinks it is a hollow show. The reason for this is in her relation with con-man Cole “The Farmer” Langley, which she reviews in the same chapter. Although their relationship was overtly sexual, rather than only symbolically sexual, it was otherwise very similar to Lilly and Roy’s. She too was a white-trash figure excluded by society, shaped to see only its shell through an older figure who essentially raised her. Then, in Chapter 20, when Moira proposes a partnership to Roy, it is revealed that her motives are essentially mercenary: she never did care for Roy as a person.

Carol Roberg is a mark who gets caught up in the grifters’ world. She is not really an innocent—she suffered in a Nazi concentration camp—but she is an example of someone who makes other life choices. She does not manipulate, nor does she really understand social cues. She is naive. As a result, she is the perfect pawn for Lilly to put in Roy’s path. She is also symbolic of Roy’s desire for something real. When it is revealed that she is not virginal (and was mistreated in the concentration camp), he rejects her. She exits damaged, but with dignity, showing that some other life is possible.

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