The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Well-read, intelligent, skeptical but not cynical, Hank Worthington at the end of middle age is an entertaining and at times engaging narrator, viewing the events of his life and times with the same ironic detachment and informed objectivity that have ensured his success as a “healer” of ailing business firms. Indulging in a mannered literary style that harks back to his earlier possible vocation, Hank clearly seems to be enjoying himself as he recalls his grandfather’s checkered career, or his sexual initiation at the hands of a married woman, a neighbor and distant cousin some fifteen years his senior. Also illuminating are his considered recollections of deskbound but mobile military service during World War II, ranging outward to contemplate the war in general, and his observations with regard to the postwar business world.

Hank’s grandfather Dodd, although drawn perilously close to caricature, provides a generally credible object lesson both in the abuses of learning and in the perils of inbreeding both literal and figurative, perils that Hank himself appears to have escaped. “Cubby’s” bizarre yet still mediocre career stands as proof that breeding is no guarantor of personal quality, nor learning (even when inherited) of professional excellence. Hank’s own father, soon banished to the sidelines by dint of his early death, fares hardly better than “Cubby” when subjected to Hank’s scrutiny, implicitly deemed a failure despite his rather...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Henry Dodd (Hank) Worthington

Henry Dodd (Hank) Worthington, the narrator, the head of a prosperous management consulting firm in a suburb of New York City. His viewpoint is that of a reflective, dispassionately honest man in his late sixties. He recalls himself in earlier scenes: as the privileged child of a New England college president; as a teenager, stealing stamps at school, but through cleverness and luck concealing his own guilt while gaining popularity defending an innocent friend; again in his teens, submitting to the expert seduction of a married woman who, in the opinion of an older, wiser Hank, was executing a curious revenge on her philandering husband; at Harvard, now tall, handsome, and sophisticated, enjoying the friendship of athletic Percy Cundill, literary Knox Frothingham, and sharp-witted Jon Le Cato; and after graduation, abandoning literature, falling in love with Judith Conway, and casually taking the job that will lead to his highly successful career.

Ethelbert Cuthbertson “Cubby” Dodd

Ethelbert Cuthbertson “Cubby” Dodd, Hank’s maternal grandfather, who was, for a time, the most famous member of the college faculty. His fame derived from attacking Sigmund Freud. By the time Cubby retires, most academic psychologists have forgotten him. Living into his nineties, he becomes legendary for great teaching and scholarship, but the legend is largely false on both counts.

Franklin Pierce Worthington

Franklin Pierce Worthington, Hank’s father, descended from generations of educated New Englanders. A Harvard Ph.D. specializing in Geoffrey Chaucer, he teaches at the college and then becomes its competent, conventional president. He and Hank’s mother die accidentally,...

(The entire section is 725 words.)