The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In Java Head, by using limited omniscience, the author explores the viewpoints of nine different characters, some of them major, others primarily observers.

Jeremy Ammidon is one of the most fully realized characters. He is a man of principle, as proven by his opposition to the opium trade, but he has unwisely given over the conduct of the business to his son William and his son-in-law. Jeremy is too plainspoken for Salem, which thrives on indirection and subterfuge. Jeremy’s outspokenness alienates his old friend Barzil Dunsack and drives William to conceal the firm’s activities from his father in order to avoid confrontations.

Gerrit Ammidon is also happier at sea than on land. However, though Gerrit calls himself a simple man, he has a habit of introspection. He knows that what he feels for Taou Yuen is primarily admiration and that he is drawn to Nettie because she seems to need him more than his wife does. However, Gerrit is blind to Taou Yuen’s love for him and to Edward’s designs upon her. His hasty marriage to Nettie suggests that he does not understand how much his neglect and infidelity contributed to Taou Yuen’s tragic end.

Taou Yuen is a somewhat shadowy figure, defined primarily by such externals as her clothing, her cosmetics, and her religious practices, which reflect her adherence to tradition. Unfortunately, she is so self-disciplined that she cannot confide in Gerrit and so uncompromising that...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gerrit Ammidon

Gerrit Ammidon, a Yankee sea captain, his father’s favorite son; a romantic man with an arresting, blue-eyed gaze. He is critical of the hypocrisy, the pious pretense, and the scandalmongering of his home town. Conscious of having done Nettie an injustice in dropping her because of anger at her grandfather, he confesses his love for her; after Taou Yuen’s death, he marries her and takes her with him away from Salem.

Taou Yuen

Taou Yuen, Gerrit’s Chinese bride, a Manchu noblewoman who seems completely out of place in Salem. Gerrit thinks of her as the perfection of aristocratic beauty, charm, and refinement; but she represents the Orient, not America. To save herself from Edward, she commits suicide.

Nettie Vollar

Nettie Vollar, the illegitimate daughter of Kate Dunsack and a seaman who drowned; Gerrit’s black-haired, dimpled, pert-nosed former sweetheart and later his wife.

Edward Dunsack

Edward Dunsack, Nettie’s weak-willed, drug-addicted uncle, who is resentful of Gerrit’s possessing Taou Yuen. Failing to seduce her, he gives her a distorted account of the love affair of Nettie and Gerrit. Drug-crazed, he threatens to strangle Taou Yuen and causes her to commit suicide with opium pills. Edward goes mad.

Captain Jeremy Ammidon

Captain Jeremy Ammidon, Gerrit’s father, senior partner in the firm of Ammidon, Ammidon, and Saltonstone. He dies of a heart attack upon discovering that two of the firm’s schooners are transporting opium.

William Ammidon

William Ammidon, Gerrit’s handsome brother, a money-minded tradesman who disagrees with his father on many trade and shipping matters and who sees no objection to trading in opium if it brings in money. He is sharply critical of Gerrit’s marriage. He symbolizes nineteenth century New England commercialism and business ethics.

Rhoda Ammidon

Rhoda Ammidon, William’s cheerful and sensible wife, a large, handsome woman.

Barzil Dunsack

Barzil Dunsack, father of Edward and Kate; once a friend but afterward an enemy of Jeremy.

Kate Dunsack Vollar

Kate Dunsack Vollar, Nettie’s mother.

James Saltonstone

James Saltonstone, partner of the Ammidons.

Laurel Ammidon

Laurel Ammidon, William and Rhoda’s young daughter.