The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As many critics have noted, and as Lionel Trilling implied in his 1975 introduction to the novel, Gifford Maxim is the dominant character, even though he is neither the narrator nor the ostensible protagonist. Of all the characters, he seems most real when he speaks; he has a sharply critical mind which has been tested in action. He has been both idealist and realist; the Party’s ideologue and one of its most effective spies. He is at home with both Marxist and Christian terms and can cogently state the opposing principles of each. Consequently, he carries much more authority than the other, far less experienced characters.

As Lionel Trilling revealed in 1975, Maxim was based on an acquaintance, the famous Whittaker Chambers, who testified against Alger Hiss, an official in the United States State Department who was convicted of espionage in 1950, three years after the appearance of The Middle of the Journey. There is no question that Chambers made a vivid impression on Trilling when they were both students at Columbia University and when, years later, Chambers was reported to have gone underground for the Party. Subsequent readings of the novel, including Trilling’s own in 1975, invariably concentrate on a compelling character who was followed by his twin in a real-life story of conflicting loyalties, for Chambers asserted that he and Hiss had been close friends and supporters of the Party.

The Crooms bear some resemblance to Alger Hiss and his wife, although Trilling did not know the Hisses and could not have modeled the Crooms...

(The entire section is 642 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Laskell

John Laskell, an urban affairs expert. At the age of thirty-three, this sensitive, introspective, scholarly man has just had a brush with death from scarlet fever and as a result is undergoing a somewhat premature midlife crisis. He finds himself reevaluating everything that he formerly believed, especially his left-wing politics, which had brought him into contact with many American communists and fellow travelers during the Great Depression. At the invitation of his friends, the Crooms, he goes to spend six weeks recuperating in rural Connecticut. While he is experiencing his transformation from the idealistic illusions of youth to the skeptical conservatism of middle age, he perceives most of the people he encounters as living symbols of the subtle changes taking place in American political thought at that critical point in history.

Gifford Maxim

Gifford Maxim, a former member of the Communist Party who has just defected and is now anti-Communist. Maxim is described as a brilliant intellectual with the body of a wrestler. He and Laskell attended college together. Maxim has worked as a secret agent for the Communist Party, receiving orders directly from Moscow, and hints that he has been involved in espionage and other crimes. He is afraid that he will be murdered because he knows too much. Laskell is disgusted with Maxim for his apparent cowardice and betrayal of principles; he helps him establish a...

(The entire section is 592 words.)