Lost in the Funhouse

by John Barth

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Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

Ambrose
Ambrose is the main character in the story and serves as the author’s alter ego, or other self. At thirteen, he is ‘‘at that awkward age,’’ and in addition to the usual adolescent gawkiness, he is exceptionally introspective and self-conscious. Ambrose is not only just becoming aware of his sexuality, he is experiencing the first inklings of his artistic temperament. In the narrator’s words, ‘‘There was some simple, radical difference about him; he hoped it was genius, feared it was madness, devoted himself to amiability and inconspicuousness.’’

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Father
That Ambrose’s father wears glasses and is a principal at a grade school is essentially all the description the story provides. Later in the story, the narrator describes the boys’ father as ‘‘tall and thin, balding, fair-complexioned.’’ At times he betrays a disgruntled nostalgia for the old days.

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Fat May
Not technically a character, Fat May the Laughing Lady is a mechanical sign at the entrance to the funhouse whose laughter and bawdy gestures Ambrose feels are directed toward him.

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Latest answer posted April 22, 2020, 6:09 am (UTC)

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Magda
At fourteen, Magda, a girl from the boys’ neighborhood, is ‘‘very well developed for her age.’’ When she goes through the funhouse with Ambrose’s older brother, Ambrose realizes how different he is from the ‘‘lovers’’ for whom the funhouse is fun. On an earlier occasion, she is the girl who provides Ambrose with his first (and unsatisfying) sexual experience as part of a game. She is the object of Ambrose’s desire, and he likes to imagine himself married to her someday.

Mother
Ambrose and Peter’s mother is a cheerful woman whom the narrator describes as ‘‘pretty,’’ but any additional details are withheld. She does not share Ambrose’s brooding qualities. In fact, she likes to tease her sons because of their attention to Magda.

Peter
Peter, Ambrose’s fifteen-year-old brother, possesses the physical grace and uncomplicated view of life that Ambrose lacks. Although Ambrose knows that his older brother is not as smart as he is (he won’t be able to grasp the secret to being the first to spot the landmark Towers on the way to Ocean City, for example), he envies Peter’s ability to understand the purpose of the funhouse and to find his way through it.

Uncle Karl
Though the story never reveals whose brother Karl is, in physical appearance he is the father’s opposite. Both Peter and Karl have ‘‘dark hair and eyes, short, husky statures, deep voices.’’ He works as a masonry contractor and likes to tease the boys and their mothers.

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