Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Henry, a son and a prince. As a Polish soldier in World War II fighting in France, Henry dreams of his lost family and family estate in Poland. Despite his resistance, Henry is swept away to the dream constructed in interwar Poland. In his dream, he finds that each of his acts and gestures results in an action that is irrevocable. Thus, when he kneels in front of his father to honor him, this act designates his father as king and Henry as prince. As prince, Henry is propelled to participate in an honorable marriage to his former betrothed, Molly, now a prostitute. He wavers in indecision. Through an equally insignificant gesture, he finds that he has dethroned his father and becomes a dictator king demanding that everyone honor his bride-to-be, Molly. Despite these despotic acts, he is never convinced of the truth of his assertions and demands evidence by way of the suicide of his friend Johnny as an act of submission to Henry’s will. He finds himself still imprisoned by doubts because of the double bind in the existential quandary of being both the subject and object of social form. Ultimately, the inability to become the real self emerges as the real tragedy of Henry’s submission to social forms and judgments.


Johnny, Henry’s friend and a courtier. Johnny is both Henry’s companion in France and guide to Henry’s dream-constructed reality. In the course of Henry’s projection into the inner dream of the king’s court, Johnny fades from his role as friend and becomes a courtier. When Henry demands that Johnny kill himself in response to his demand for an act that will prove the strength of his will over others, Johnny’s death brings about the collision of the reality of their friendship and his simultaneous desire to deform Johnny as subject to his will. As a character, Johnny is not individualized but merely projects those qualities...

(The entire section is 780 words.)