The Lost Language of Cranes Characters

David Leavitt

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Philip is the central and most sympathetic character of the novel. His story is a coming-of-age and a “coming-out” tale, and he is the main conduit for emotional understanding. Philip is a sincere and sensitive young man whose journey takes him from self-doubt and obsessiveness toward self-knowledge and authentic love. It is through a more rigorous examination of his lovers and his parents that Philip ultimately finds himself. At the same time, he provides an interesting foil and gloss to Owen; at numerous points, scenes from their lives—meals, sexual encounters, phone conversations—are effectively juxtaposed.

Owen, an older, more confused, and more repressed man, is much more enigmatic. While on the surface potentially despicable for his deception and indecision, Owen is not an unsympathetic character, for Leavitt is careful to convey Owen’s pain, guilt, and sincere desire to do what is right for both himself and those he loves. He is portrayed as a man lost and confused, a representation of the bluntness that results from the repression of desire and honesty.

Rose, though not as repressed or deceptive, has also been living with lies. While seemingly a victim, she is also a wife guilty of infidelities who prefers to avoid confrontation. She is a sympathetic character, but one with a complex layering of feelings, thoughts, desires, and self-deceptions. That her journey is determined primarily by the desires and actions of others...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Philip Benjamin

Philip Benjamin, a twenty-five-year-old gay man who works as an editor of romance novels. A solitary only child, Philip had lost himself in Derek Moulthorp’s children’s fantasies. At the beginning of the novel, Philip is in love with Eliot, who, by coincidence, is Moulthorp’s foster son. At Philip’s request, Eliot takes Philip to dinner at Moulthorp’s apartment. Philip questions Moulthorp’s partner, Geoffrey, about Eliot’s deceased parents. Believing that Philip has invaded his privacy, Eliot stops returning his calls. Eliot’s openness about his own sexuality, however, prompts Philip to tell his parents, with whom he has a rather distant relationship, that he is gay. His mother rejects him, but Philip and his father communicate honestly for the first time. Although Philip believes that he will never recover from losing Eliot, he and a college friend, Brad, ultimately become lovers.

Owen Benjamin

Owen Benjamin, Philip’s father, the dean of admissions at the Harte School, a private school for rich boys. At the outset, Owen faces two crises. First, he and his wife, Rose, must either purchase or vacate the rent-controlled apartment in which they have lived for many years. Second, Owen is no longer content with anonymous encounters in a pornographic movie theater or with hiding his homosexuality from his wife. When Philip “comes out” to his parents, Owen questions his son, hoping to find a model for an openly gay lifestyle. Owen invites to dinner Winston Penn, a coach at Harte whom he incorrectly believes is gay. Owen tells Philip that he is inviting Penn for his son’s benefit, but Owen is himself infatuated with his colleague. After watching Owen flirt with Penn at dinner, Rose asks her husband to leave. Owen takes refuge at Philip’s apartment, uncertain whether his separation from his wife will be permanent.

Rose Benjamin


(The entire section is 795 words.)