The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Sam Pollit is the most forceful and most flamboyant character in the novel. Tall, blond, and handsome, he demands—and receives—attention in whatever situation the author places him. He is strangely childlike, full of energy, adventure, and naivete. One of his most distinctive features is the language that he makes up and uses in daily conversation with his children. Although they do not have complete command of the language, their speech is marked by its influence, and the private vocabulary establishes Sam’s need for attention and control and provides a strong bond between him and his offspring.

Sam is also given to philosophical pronouncements on the state of mankind and the world in general. He strongly believes that nature provides the ideal model for conducting all activities. He is a devoted environmentalist, in an era before that term and the philosophy it embodies were fashionable. He also has some Hitlerian ideas about the elimination of weaker, inferior specimens of the human race.

His politics are a strange mixture of democracy and socialism, but the most dominant spiritual and emotional trait ascribed to Sam is his eternal optimism, based upon his faith in his own righteousness, even in face of enormous personal strain and defeat. Even when he is being cruelest to his children, the objects of his most profound and essential love, he believes, truly, without the least irony, that he is doing the right thing.

Henny is the product of an aristocratic upbringing, but she has long since lacked the means to live an aristocratic life. As a result, she accumulates, over the years, secret debts and obligations to lenders both reputable and disreputable. Upon her death, Sam realizes that it will take him more than five years to repay the debts she has incurred.

Henny’s character is developed largely through her anger. Her tantrums...

(The entire section is 771 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Samuel Clemens (Sam) Pollit

Samuel Clemens (Sam) Pollit, a husband and father. A man in his late thirties or early forties, he is a bureaucrat by profession and a moralist by nature. His real interest is in having children and playing with them. Whatever happens to him, from losing his job to losing his wife, Sam takes it as one more proof of the world’s persecution of moral superiority. At the end of the novel, he has learned nothing: He will continue to wear out women and children in his service.

Henrietta Collyer (Henny) Pollit

Henrietta Collyer (Henny) Pollit, Sam’s second wife. A tall, slender society girl when she married Sam, she has been driven to physical and emotional exhaustion by his demands for sexual gratification and regular production of babies. She is filled with hatred: hatred of her husband, of her stepdaughter, of the rundown house in Baltimore to which he eventually moves her, and of her debt-burdened life. After she has been spurned by her lover, she drinks poison and dies.

Louisa (Louie, Looloo) Pollit

Louisa (Louie, Looloo) Pollit, Sam’s daughter by his first wife. At the beginning of the novel, she is a large, fat, and clumsy eleven-year-old. Mocked and teased by her father, as well as criticized and insulted by the stepmother whom she loves, Louisa is saddled with much of the housework. Because she is talented and bright, it is clear that if she leaves home Louisa can succeed. Her father, however, says that he will...

(The entire section is 623 words.)