The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Like other Vonnegut protagonists, Howard Campbell tends to speak aphoristically. He tells the reader a number of things that are good for the reader to know or emulate. For example, in reply to the supposition that he hates America, Campbell replies, “That would be as silly as loving it. . . . It’s impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn’t interest me.” Elsewhere he says that “nationalities” do not interest him. He refers to himself as a “stateless person.” Once he draws a swastika, a hammer and sickle, and a United States flag on his window and says, “Hooray, hooray, hooray.” So much for patriotism. In this way Campbell presents one of the more important of Vonnegut’s teachings.

Another of Vonnegut’s lessons requires that Campbell (who was a successful playwright in Germany) admit that if Germany had won, there was every chance that he “would have become a sort of Nazi Edgar Guest, writing a daily [newspaper] column of optimistic doggerel. . . .” While this admission conflicts tentatively with the antipatriotic theme, it serves the equally important idea that most Americans probably would have behaved like most Nazis, placed in the same situation. As the reader comes to identify more closely with Campbell, he is led to the brink of seeking a way possibly to forgive the Nazis—to forgive unspeakable evil. This hope is perhaps thwarted, however, by Campbell’s inability to forgive himself (hence his...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Howard W. Campbell, Jr.

Howard W. Campbell, Jr., the protagonist, a pitiful, abandoned, forty-eight-year-old “citizen of nowhere.” American-born, he moved with his family to Berlin at the age of eleven. By 1938, at the age of twenty-six, he is a successful writer and producer of medieval romance plays, all starring his beloved wife, Helga. At this time, he is recruited by Major Frank Wirtanen to be an American secret agent posing as a Nazi radio propagandist. Thought to be a vile Nazi hatemonger (only three people know of his services as an American secret agent), Campbell is twice captured as a Nazi war criminal and twice released through Wirtanen’s secret machinations. Finally, Campbell, in despair over his Nazi-tainted past, turns himself in to Israeli authorities and is imprisoned in Jerusalem. When he is again ironically “saved” by Wirtanen and is faced with the nausea of being a free man, he hangs himself for “crimes against himself.”

Helga Noth

Helga Noth, Campbell’s wife, the daughter of the Berlin chief of police. She dies in the war. Campbell, without knowing it, had broadcast the news of Helga’s death in one of his coded radio broadcasts, but because he was ignorant of his broadcast’s secret contents, he was not privy to this information.

Resi Noth

Resi Noth, Helga’s younger sister, only ten years old when Campbell last sees her in Germany. Fifteen years later, Resi, now a Russian spy, poses as Helga and plots, with fellow spy George Kraft, to kidnap...

(The entire section is 641 words.)