Miracle of the Rose Characters

Jean Genet

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jean Genet

Jean Genet (zhah[n] zheh-NAY), a defensive, thirty-year-old Fontevrault “lifer” with repeated burglary convictions who sees himself as a character in a dream, a living skeleton, and a dead man irrevocably locked within the restrictions of prison life. In his inverted moral order, he covets infamous acts of brutality so that he can attain the spiritual heights of Harcamone, a rapist-murderer, and thus achieve his own death by decapitation as the epitome of beauty. The thin, lightly muscled, slow-moving narrator masks his fears by assuming an offensive, angry posture and consciously appears humorless to avoid losing control of himself through laughter. First entering Mettray for having stabbed out the eye of a child, Genet idolizes “big shots” who have descended further than he. At Fontevrault, Genet reveres both Harcamone, a God figure, and Bulkaen, the hand of God. The narrator’s violent, repressed desires find sexual outlets in his memories of thievery, his fantasies, his eruptive attacks, and his need to participate in other inmates’ orgasms.


Bulkaen (bewl-KA[N]), also known as Robert, Pierrot (pyeh-ROH), Jewel, and Rocky’s girl, a twenty-two-year-old, green-eyed, blond, tattooed Fontevrault inmate who is the immediate sexual and spiritual focus of the narrator’s longing. A proud, icy, vindictive thief who disguises the anguish of feeling abandoned with lies and manipulations, Bulkaen both inspires the narrator to passion and, according to Genet, shatters his life. Although he initiates contact, Pierrot contemptuously rejects the narrator’s first advances but eventually allows Genet to kiss him and becomes his “kid.” As the instrument of God, Bulkaen reveals the narrator’s fate. After his death, he is internalized by Genet as the priest who aids the narrator’s psychic support of Harcamone.


Harcamone (ahr-kah-MUH[N]), a rapist-murderer who escapes life imprisonment by severing the carotid artery of the...

(The entire section is 881 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The narrator of Miracle of the Rose is an autobiographical figure. Like him, Jean Genet spent his childhood and adolescence in a reformatory and was later sentenced to prison. Miracle of the Rose was written while Genet was incarcerated at La Sante and Tourelles prisons.

The characters are criminals, often with exotic names; all speak the French argot. The narrator refers to different boys and men by name, but it is impossible to get an individualized picture of any of them. They have no personal idiosyncrasies or ambitions. In a sense, they are all the same, moving between fidelity and betrayal, courage and cowardice, possibly because Genet is only concerned with their sexuality.

Harcamone becomes a sacrificial figure. He sees death as “the only way of shortening his captivity.” That escape comes with “a rather trivial act”; he cuts the throat of the one guard who had shown any kindness to him at the beginning of his life sentence, “a man insolent with mildness.” Luckily, this murder differed from his first; “all too often people overlook the sufferings of the murderer who always kills in the same way.”

The narrator’s accounts of events and his complicated loves dovetail with the memories of little boy “big shots,” “chickens,” and “jerks” in the hierarchical world of Mettray. The prison society is equally and intensely as snobbish. It is dominated by the “toughs,” hard cases who exact tribute in the form of sex and tobacco from the other criminals. “Crashers” (burglars) will not talk to pimps. Influence is based on length of term. France outside the walls practically ceases to exist: A war is going on somewhere; the prisoners are making camouflage nets for the Germans rather than mailbags.

Genet makes a religion of evil. Pimps, crashers, big shots, and chickens exist primarily as angels and archangels in this inverted heaven of prison. Out of pity for another, one prisoner will attack a third, although he knows it means additional punishment for him. It is a world where all feelings, pity, anger, and cruelty are on the surface and produce instant action. In this atmosphere, the detailed homosexual encounters become routine.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Dobrez, L.A.C. The Existential and Its Exits: Literary and Philosophical Perspectives on the Works of Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, and Pinter, 1986.

Grebanier, Bernard. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXII (February 19, 1967), p. 5.

Hassan, Ihab. The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature, 1971.

Knapp, Bettina. Jean Genet, 1968.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr, 1963.

Updike, John. Review in The New Yorker. XLIII (November 4, 1967), pp. 230-234.

Weightman, John. The Concept of the Avant-garde: Explorations in Modernism, 1973.