John Berry, Irving’s protagonist-narrator, is the moral center of the novel, the spokesman for Irving, who, like John, was born in 1942. (Incidentally, Mr. Berry’s first name is Winslow, which is Irving’s middle name.) In the course of the novel, John resolves a host of problems, all of which involve maturation and identity. In fact, the novel is almost a casebook on Freudian psychology (the distinction between the two Freuds blatantly makes the point).
Despite the novel’s focus on the five Berry children, the reader actually knows only Franny and John well. Egg (whose name is obviously symbolic of the unformed personality) dies when the family leaves the womblike first Hotel New Hampshire. Lilly, whose physical growth is stunted, also exists primarily as a symbol of arrested development: Her first novel concerns autobiographical events that culminate with the fatal plane crash. Her inability to deal with the death of her mother and with the initiation experiences of Vienna is manifested in her failed second novel, which concerns events after the crash. Although Frank is more fully drawn, he is defined almost exclusively in terms of his homosexuality, which he comes to terms with by the end of the novel.
John’s parents also serve largely symbolic roles, a point that Irving makes by referring to them not as Win and Mary but as Mother and Father. The reader knows little about Mother, whose primary function is to die, thereby leaving...
(The entire section is 596 words.)