The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gabe Wallach is meant to be a complex and thoughtful character, but actually he is overshadowed by the other characters in the book. When the reader first encounters him, he is brooding over the death of his mother and involved in a moral and psychological struggle with his father. He later has an affair with Martha Reganhart, a young divorcée who loses custody of her two small children because of her relations with him. Later, when one of the children accidentally kills the other while they are away with their father, Martha breaks off the affair. Gabe feels heartbroken, guilty, and wounded. Meanwhile he has been involved with his friends Paul and Libby Herz. He is drawn to the thin, neurotic Libby, although Paul is his best friend. Finally, after he has helped Paul and Libby adopt a baby, he embarks for Europe, to mend his emotional wounds and continue his search for his identity.

Paul Herz, however, passes through even greater tribulations. Married to the intense, hysterical Libby, who is always suffering from physical and emotional problems, Paul wants to accomplish something great but never seems to be able to make any progress. The Herzes suffer from both poverty and a kind of will to doom; their marriage often seems grim and cannibalistic, despite the few moments of real affection that creep into the narrative. After her abortion, Libby develops kidney trouble which makes it dangerous for her to have a child. Eventually, Paul lands a good job in...

(The entire section is 463 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gabriel (Gabe) Wallach

Gabriel (Gabe) Wallach, a young instructor of English at the University of Chicago. He had studied creative writing at the University of Iowa, where he met a fellow graduate student, Paul Herz. He becomes heavily involved in Paul’s complicated life with Libby DeWitt, the woman Paul eventually marries. Gabe finds Paul a job as an instructor at the University of Chicago, and their involvements deepen. Gabe’s life is complicated by devotion to his widowed father, his affair with Martha Reganhart, his encounters with his department chairman and his wife, and his love-hate relationship with the Herzes.

Paul Herz

Paul Herz, Gabe’s friend and colleague at the University of Chicago. Poor, hardworking, and not especially witty or intelligent, he has an affair with Libby DeWitt, a student whom he later marries. He has aspirations to become a writer, but eventually, under pressure of poverty and family responsibilities, he decides to become a schoolteacher instead.

Elizabeth (Libby) DeWitt

Elizabeth (Libby) DeWitt, a student who becomes Paul’s wife. She was reared as a Catholic but later decides to convert and be as good a Jewish wife to Paul as possible. Early in their relationship, she becomes pregnant and reluctantly agrees to an abortion. Later, wanting a child but unable for health reasons to risk conceiving another one, she persuades Paul to adopt a baby. The baby, Rachel, is found through Gabe’s help, but...

(The entire section is 619 words.)