Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
Phillips uses the perspectives of Lark, Termite, Leavitt, and Nonie to weave a tapestry of characters who may be separated by time, geography, and circumstance but who nevertheless share a common bond.
Lola is the thread connecting all of these characters—mother to Lark and Termite, lover to Charlie and Leavitt, sister to Nonie—yet Phillips refrains from showing the reader Lola’s point of view until the final section of the book, which relates Lola’s last moments before committing suicide. Lola comes alive, though, through the remembrances of Nonie and Leavitt. Lola grows up as a fiery, beautiful girl promised by her evangelical preacher father that she has “the spirit in her.” This sense of being special gives her the confidence she needs to be a jazz singer but leaves her ill prepared for the tragedies of everyday life.
Nonie is in many ways a direct contrast to her younger sister, Lola. She is hard working and determined; she keeps her emotions stored within. However, she shares Lola’s independent streak—she leaves Winfield first and leads Lola to Billy Onslow’s nightclub. Nonie is not able to have children, so she values Lark and Termite as her own. Lola even predicts this when she explains her pregnancy with Charlie to Nonie: “This is Charlie’s baby, and yours, the only way the two of you will ever have a child.”
Although Lark has never met Lola, she shares a lot of her personality traits with her mother. Like Lola, Lark loves to draw. She also has Lola’s wandering spirit; she collects picture postcards of different main streets from across the United States and decorates her bedroom wall with them. Lark also shares with Lola a captivating beauty that mesmerizes all who meet her. Emotionally, Lark lacks her mother’s manic emotional tendencies and instead recalls the rock of her father, Charlie. She shows compassion and patience in dealing with Termite,and has a dogged pragmatism evident in the way she prepares for her flight to Florida.
Termite has inherited his parents’ love for music as well as the mental difficulties that plague both Lola and Lola’s mother, who is described by Nonie as childlike and silent. The sections written from Termite’s perspective show him to be quite perceptive. Phillips employs a stream-of-conscious style in these sections, portraying Termite’s world in vivid, poetic language. Often a memory from Termite’s past, such as an interaction with social workers or a moment shared with Solly and Lark, will be inserted in the middle of a scene. Phillips uses this technique to show how the present always affects the past and how the past can come alive during the present.
Like Termite, Robert Leavitt is only a passive participant in the action of the novel—for nearly the entire book he lies near death in the tunnel beneath the railway bridge—but his emotions and thoughts contribute significantly to the mood of Lark and Termite. That Leavitt hears Lola speaking and feels the imminent birth of his son underscores Phillips’s theme of interconnectedness. Also, Leavitt’s assistance to the Korean girl and her mentally impaired brother parallels the compassionate relationship between Lark and Termite; the Korean family itself reflects the family made up of Lark, Termite, and Nonie.
Phillips populates Lark and Termite with a variety of vivid minor characters who bring added perspective to the ordeals of the central protagonists.
Charlie Fitzgibbons acts as the foundation for the women of the novel—as a lover to Lola and Nonie and as a father figure to Lark and Termite.
Gladys Fitzgibbons serves as a foil to Nonie. She is an ardent Catholic who refuses to abide her son’s dalliance with a girl from the wrong side of town. She eventually perishes from her own cruelty.
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