Last Updated on January 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1123
Coralie Sardie is the female protagonist of The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Although she is beautiful, she describes herself as “dark and plain” and has deformity, webbed fingers, that makes her hands appear fish-like. She becomes the biggest attraction in her father's museum as the “Human Mermaid.” Because of her deformity, Coralie believes herself to be unworthy of love.
Coralie is naive and obedient at first, following all of her father's rules without protest. Over the course of the book, however, Coralie begins to defy her father, the Professor. She learns that she is not really his daughter but was orphaned and left on his doorstep. She also comes to see him as the cruel monster that he is. In sharp contrast to the Professor’s cruelty, Coralie has a kind and generous heart.
When Coralie first sees Eddie, she is immediately drawn to him but fears that she is “her father’s daughter, a living wonder, an oddity no common man could ever understand.” Eventually, she and Eddie fall in love and help save some of the living exhibits at the museum. She also defies her father by helping Eddie rescue the body of a dead girl from the museum so that the girl’s father can give her a proper funeral. Coralie and Eddie eventually marry and begin a life completely different from the bizarre one she led in her father’s house.
Eddie is the principal male character. Born to an Orthodox Jewish family, he lives in intense poverty until he essentially becomes a hoodlum who leaves his community and turns his back on his father and religion. Eddie then undergoes a moral transformation, turning from his reckless lifestyle and becoming a photographer.
At the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Eddie photographs the victims of the famous fire and is overcome by emotion. He is then hired to find one of the seamstresses whose body has not been recovered. He finds that the Professor has taken the body to his lab for nefarious reasons and convinces Coralie to help him recover the girl’s body so her family can bury her.
After the fire, Eddie undergoes a metamorphosis. He falls in love with Coralie and bravely rescues her after her father has locked her up. Near the end of the book, with Coralie at his side, he reconciles with his father.
Maureen is the Sardies’ housekeeper. She raises Coralie and loves her. Over time, as Coralie’s relationship with the Professor deteriorates, Maureen protects Coralie, helping to save Coralie from her evil father.
Like many of the other members of Coralie’s household, Maureen also has a disfigurement, scars from a long ago boyfriend who threw acid in her face “in a fit of jealous rage.” It is revealed by the end of the story that it was Coralie’s father who attacked Maureen. Although it is never confirmed, the narration hints at the possibility that Maureen is Coralie’s mother.
The Professor, Coralie’s father, operates the Museum of Extraordinary Things, a freak show on Coney Island. He is cruel and heartless, taking advantage of people whose deformities make them vulnerable. He is also violent, beating his employees and then turning them out on the street: “Many of the living wonders Coralie had known since childhood had been let go as soon as their popularity began to diminish, never to be spoken of again.”
The Professor is a devious and duplicitous character, and his cruelty to his daughter is a catalyst that galvanizes Eddie to rescue Coralie.
Hochman is one of Eddie’s early employers. His role is to show the dark side of life, introducing Eddie to “the wicked world” and acting as a catalyst for Eddie’s loss of innocence.
Hochman also serves to make Eddie see the truth about many things in his past. He tells Eddie that he is still connected to his father: “A father is a father, Orthodox or not,” he says. He also calls Eddie by his given name, Ezekiel, reminding Eddie of his origins.
Moses Levy is a photographer and Eddie’s mentor and father figure. Levy, like Hochman, understands that Eddie cannot completely sever his ties to his father: he is bound to him. Although he has only a minor role in the book, Levy is key to helping Eddie to turn away from his life on the streets as one of “Hochman’s boys” and obtain a legitimate job as a photographer. Moreover, he views Eddie as a son and leaves him everything he owns when he dies.
Levy also helps Eddie to understand emotions, both joyous and sad. Levy’s goodness leads Eddie to question his own shortcomings and wish to be “a better man.” He brings out the compassion that Eddie buried deep inside himself when he first left home.
Beck, “the hermit,” befriends Eddie and helps him discover Hannah Weiss’s body after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Like many of the other people that Coralie and Eddie meet, he imparts his own philosophy, which is compassionate despite personal tragedy. Beck’s wife died when she was only twenty, and Beck never recovered. After many discussions with Beck that help Eddie regain his sense of humanity, Beck congratulates Eddie on “being human.”
Samuel Weiss asks Eddie to help find his daughter Hannah, who—along with her twin sister, Elia—worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The effort to find Hannah reinforces what Eddie knows in his heart about the importance of family. Weiss also serves to let Eddie know that his father, “whom he had not seen or spoken to in twelve years,” still loves him. Weiss reminds Eddie of his own humanity. Ironically, Eddie views Weiss as a strong man in contrast to his own timid father, although Eddie comes to regard his father in a different light by the end of the book.
Raymond Morris (The Wolfman)
The Wolfman, whose real name is Raymond Morris, is one of the living exhibits in the Professor’s museum; his body is covered in hair. Morris is extremely well-read and helps both Coralie and Maureen learn more about the literary world, which gives them both a glimpse into what is possible for their lives. Maureen and Morris become romantically involved and eventually return together to Morris’s hometown, where they live in the house in which he was raised.
Morris serves to show the best of humanity in his love for Maureen and his efforts to help rescue Coralie, as well as the worst of it through the treatment he receives in New York and at the hands of the Professor. He also helps open Coralie’s eyes to her father’s evil nature.
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