Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 708

Elizabeth Hapgood

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Elizabeth Hapgood, a thirty-eight-year-old British female intelligence operative. She is involved in a spy mission attempting to locate a mole or “sleeper” who is passing secrets to Russia. Her code name is “Mother,” although she is also addressed as “Betty” by her “sister” Celia. Hapgood is the mother of a son by Kerner, a German-Russian spy, and also has had a long-standing relationship with Blair and a lesser one with the enigmatic operative Ridley. The leading character in a geometrically complicated web of intrigue and contradictions, Hapgood, along with every other character in the shadowy world of spying, is a potential “joe,” the term for an operative who turns into a double or triple spy. Uncertainties multiply about whether her sister (also a Hapgood), who calls herself Celia, is really a sister, possibly a twin, or merely “Mother” in a double role. Torn between her two mother roles, she remains an enigmatic character whose conflict is resolved by the safety of her son and the intended return of Kerner to Russia.

Joseph Kerner

Joseph Kerner, a fortyish Russian scientist and spy who has been “turned” by Hapgood and, therefore, is her “joe.” He was born in Königsberg, the birthplace of philosopher Immanuel Kant. His triple-spy role is merely a working out of his intellectual gymnastics, which combine Kant’s philosophical ideas with current atomic theories. Those theories involve the random nature of life and, therefore, of spies, who are like the electron, which can be here and there at the same moment. The particle world, as a result, becomes the dream world of the spy. Like “Mother,” his real name, Joe, takes on the double significance of a “joe.” His interest in physics supersedes his political preference. Although he sees the West as morally superior “in the fact that the system contains the possibility of its own reversal,” he will accept the offer of transportation back to Russia. For him, spying is a metaphor for all people as they, in their dreams, meet their “sleepers”: “the priest is visited by the doubter, the Marxist sees the civilizing force of the bourgeoisie, the captain of industry admits the justice of common ownership.”

Paul Blair

Paul Blair, a man about forty-eight years old and in good physical shape. He has been a longtime friend of Hapgood and, possibly, her lover. Hapgood can depend on him when all else fails. He might have been young Joe’s father had not Hapgood, in one incident with Kerner, become pregnant. His role is that of a trustworthy and reliable friend of Hapgood, on both personal and professional levels, even when he suspects her as a mole.

Ernest Ridley

Ernest Ridley, a spy in his mid-thirties who remains enigmatic to the end. His role involves a series of deliberately confusing costume disguises and, possibly, the existence of his twin. In the past, he, too, may have had a romantic liaison with Hapgood, and he is still attracted to her.

Ben Wates

Ben Wates, a black American spy, about forty-five years old, who is the first black man to “make it to the seventh floor at Langley,” the home of American intelligence activities. Turning up in London, he is not very much liked or trusted by the English, partly as a result of earlier operations in Athens in which a Russian and an American had been killed by the English.

Celia Hapgood

Celia Hapgood, an artist’s or photographer’s model, not listed in the opening list of characters. It is uncertain whether she is a disguise of “Mother,” a sister, or a twin. The possibility exists that she is the delinquent side of Hapgood’s double character.


Maggs, in his twenties, a young, calm, and professional secretary to Hapgood and a minor functionary in the events. He attends mostly to seeing that all beepers and telephones are in working order.


Merryweather, a minor operative, twenty-two years old, involved in the highly confusing opening incidents in which documents are transmitted in and out of cubicles in a bathhouse.


Joe, the eleven-year-old son of Hapgood and Kerner. He attends a public school and is the object of a kidnapping attempt by the Russians, but in the end he is safe.

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