The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although Percy sketches many of the characters with the swift, deadly accurate strokes of comic caricature, his protagonist is a fully developed, complex, seriocomic hero. Yet he is also a kind of Everyman, sharing many of the mental/emotional impediments typical of each of the social groups so deftly caricatured. The dominant political parties, for example, have been renamed (a contribution in each case of the opposition) and display characteristic pathological symptoms. Conservative Republicans, now called Knotheads, often suffer from large bowel complaints, making proctology one of the two major medical specialties. Dr. More shares this difficulty. Though by no means a political Knothead, he is a conservative Roman Catholic in a world where most Catholics have formed splinter groups. Like so many of Percy’s protagonists, and like the author himself, he professes to believe in the traditional Catholic Christian message. Dr. More admits, however, that he loves women, music, science, whiskey, and God, in that order—and his fellowman hardly at all. He has not “eaten Christ”—that is, taken Communion—since his daughter Samantha died, his wife ran away with a heathen Englishman, and he himself turned to drink.

He suffers even more from the tendency toward abstraction and unreasonable terrors that have become typical of the Lefts (Democrats) or Leftpapasane, a term devised by Knotheads, standing for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, The Pill, Atheism,...

(The entire section is 588 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dr. Thomas More

Dr. Thomas More, the narrator, a psychiatrist in Paradise Estates, Louisiana. By his own admission, this forty-five-year-old man loves “women best, music and science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellow man hardly at all.” His life is complicated by his two most prominent qualities: his heart full of love and his good mind. Because of his wife’s adultery, his daughter’s death, his guilt over his affair with his neighbor’s daughter, and his conviction that the world is going to end, this bad Catholic is afflicted with alcoholism and troublesome mood swings. His personal problems land him in a mental hospital, where he is both a patient and a member of the staff. When his plans for revolutionizing psychiatry through his mood-altering invention—the lapsometer—fall through, he returns to his life as a practicing psychiatrist, forsakes his philandering, chaotic lifestyle, and marries his nurse, Ellen Oglethorpe.

Ellen Oglethorpe

Ellen Oglethorpe, More’s nurse, a beautiful but tyrannical Georgia Presbyterian who believes not in God but in doing what is right. When she threatens to leave and become Art Immelmann’s traveling secretary, More pulls her off the plane, marries her, and regains some stability in his life.

Miss Marva

Miss Marva, More’s mother, a psychic. Unlike her son, she is on good terms with the world. When a group of black revolutionaries called the Bantus take over 99 percent of Paradise Estates, she nevertheless flourishes by selling “astrological real estate” to the Bantus.


Eukie, Miss Marva’s black servant. She calls More a “treasure,” but he insists that he is good for nothing but serving cocktails to his wife’s bridge club.

Art Immelmann

Art Immelmann, an insidious stranger who poses as the liaison officer between the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations. He talks More into signing over the rights to the lapsometer to him and then uses the invention to increase tensions among people. After adding the lapsometer to the Maryland arsenal, he promises that More will win the Nobel Prize.

Lola Rhoades

Lola Rhoades, an accomplished cellist, twenty years old, one of More’s girlfriends. Foolish, impetuous, and gallant, she saves More’s life when he has an attack of “brain hives” in a grassy bunker by fetching her brother to help him. The six-foot-tall beauty saves More’s life a second...

(The entire section is 1057 words.)