The main characters in Monster are Steve Harmon, Kathy O'Brien, Sandra Petrocelli, Asa Briggs, and James King.
- Steve Harmon is the protagonist of the novel. A high school student with a passion for filmmaking, Steve's involvement in the case causes him to rethink his sense of self.
- Kathy O'Brien is Steve's defense lawyer. Her doubts about Steve unnerve him.
- Sandra Petrocelli is the prosecutor, who employs coercive tactics and labels Steve a "monster."
- Asa Briggs is James King's defense lawyer, who pushes back against Petrocelli's tactics.
- James King is a young criminal and the suspected murderer in the case.
Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1002
Steve Harmon is a sixteen-year-old boy and the protagonist of the novel. He is described by the prosecutor Sandra Petrocelli as the eponymous “monster.” This naming is profoundly ironic, because there is nothing remotely monstrous about Steve. He is thoughtful, sensitive and creative, mainly interested in making film documentaries about his neighborhood. It is not clear whether Steve has some minimal involvement in the robbery. It is possible that he was pressured into walking into the store to check if there were any police present before the robbery. Even if this is the case, he seems to be morally innocent, with no malign intentions and certainly no knowledge of potential murder. He is genuinely horrified by the idea of Mr. Nesbitt drowning in his own blood and is repelled by the violence which surrounds him in the detention center. Steve’s sensitivity extends to a great deal of worrying about what others think of him. He is increasingly alarmed, as the book progresses, at the number of people who really seem to think he is a monster.
Kathy O’Brien is a highly competent and professional lawyer whose job appears to be central to her life. Although she seems more scrupulous than Sandra Petrocelli, the prosecution lawyer, O’Brien is also principally concerned with winning the case rather than getting to the truth. Steve only gradually realizes this. At first, he thinks O’Brien is interested in him as a fellow human being, but he comes to see that she does not believe in his innocence and only really wants to learn about him in order to present his case as effectively as possible. Her refusal to acknowledge him at the end of the book shows her dislike for and disbelief in him—or, at best, her complete indifference.
Sandra Petrocelli is a tough prosecutor whose approach to the law is cynical and manipulative. She cares only about winning the case and is completely uninterested in such idealistic concepts as truth or justice. She has made numerous deals with criminals in order to construct a convincing case against Steve and James King, and she preemptively labels the defendants “monsters” in an attempt to prejudice the jury.
Asa Briggs is James King’s defense lawyer, a tired and cynical older man who clearly knows that his client is guilty and does not particularly care. Like the other two lawyers, he represents the inherent corruption in the justice system, though he is not personally unethical. He does his job effectively, often engaging in heated arguments with Sandra Petrocelli over her manipulative practices and leading questions. A note of clarification: Asa Briggs is the name of a famous British social historian, who was still alive and writing when Monster was published.
James King is a criminal in his mid twenties and, as becomes clear, the murderer of Mr. Nesbitt. He is largely silent, because his lawyer is convinced that his obvious guilt and lack of intelligence would cause him to incriminate himself if he were to speak. King is a foil to Steve, who once had a certain amount of respect for King’s tough demeanor but soon realizes that he is actually a powerless fool.
Bobo Evans is an older career criminal with a long record who testifies against Steve and James King in return for a reduced sentence. His testimony is unreliable, and he has to admit that he does not actually know Steve, and only has King’s word that he was involved in the robbery at all. He seems to have become complicit in the unjust legal system and knows how to manipulate it to his advantage.
Osvaldo Cruz is a fourteen-year-old boy who is thought to be relatively innocent because of his youth, hence the fact that he is offered a plea bargain. However, he is already a gang member with a strong taste for violence and a much more menacing figure than Steve.
The Judge is an old man close to the end of his career. He appears bored throughout the trial and resembles most of the other court officials. He is fairly impartial but has a friendly rapport with the lawyers, giving the impression of a privileged clique.
Detective Karyl is the investigating officer who arrested Steve. He is malicious and prejudiced, automatically assuming that a young black man must be guilty and vindictively saying that he hopes Steve will be executed. Detective Karyl is complicit in the corruption of the system not only because of his racist attitude but because he has not bothered to look into the incident thoroughly or carry out his duties carefully.
Steve’s father is depicted as conscientious and well-intentioned but distant and even distrustful of his son, who has not lived up to his expectations. Steve does not think his father really believes he is innocent and feels that their relationship has suffered irreparable damage as a result of the trial.
Steve’s mother is deeply religious and tries to support her son with words from the Bible. She finds it impossible to hide her distress at seeing her son in prison, and she cannot stop breaking down and crying when she visits.
Mr. Sawicki, Steve’s film teacher, appears as a character witness and says that Steve is a decent boy and a creative, thoughtful filmmaker. He is one of the few people who appears to believe in Steve’s innocence and understand his character.
Lorelle Henry is one of the few witnesses who is neither an expert nor a criminal with a plea bargain. She is a simple bystander who was in the drugstore when Evans and King attacked Mr. Nesbitt. She is a retired librarian and one of the few conscientious and public-spirited figures in the novel. She has come forward in the interests of justice, though as a black woman she feels reluctant to testify against a black man.
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