The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Characters

Michael Chabon

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Art Bechstein, whose mind is the source of the narrative consciousness of the novel, is the focus of the story. It is essential that he immediately and powerfully control the attention, curiosity, and sympathy of the reader. His compelling blend of aspiration and yearning, held just beneath a protective shield of studied sophistication, is established through a control of tone and language that recalls the singular voices created for Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, other young men uncertain about the survival of their integrity as they enter a menacing world of adult demands and entrapment.

The mysteries of Pittsburgh that Art engages are the mysteries of existence, and the tentativeness and hesitancy of Art’s explorations, both within the city and within his psyche, are testament to the candor of his accounts. Because everything is presented through Art’s perspective, it is crucial that his judgments are conveyed with complete sincerity, so that even when he is clearly mistaken, his honesty remains unquestioned.

Despite his concentration in economics, which he refers to as “a sad and cynical major,” and his distaste for the library, Art cultivates the sensibility of a literate outsider and is susceptible to the lure of Arthur Lecomte and Cleveland Arning. They appear to be of a world diametrically opposed to that of his father, which demands prudence and control. Although Art gradually discovers that...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Art Bechstein

Art Bechstein, the son of a gangster, Joseph “Joe the Egg” Bechstein. His mother died when he was twelve years old. He learned of his father’s nefarious dealings when he was in his early teens and, at first, was intrigued by the adventure they seemed to offer. Now, however, he is twenty-two years old and has recently graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, and he finds his father’s career somewhat embarrassing. Art is working in a run-down Pittsburgh bookstore near campus because he has nothing better to do. He dates Phlox Lombardi, a young woman who fascinates him because of her individualistic style of speaking and dressing. He is, however, equally fascinated by Arthur Lecomte, a suave homosexual whose courtly manners suggest (incorrectly) a privileged background. In Arthur, he finds someone whose style he can admire. Uncertain of his own sexual identity, Art soon falls into an affair with Arthur. Art also is fond of Arthur’s friend, Cleveland, a former collector of payments on illegal loans who has become a small-time thug. Art, as the author presents him, represents the youth of the 1980’s. He takes more than he gives. Accustomed to getting his own way in most things, he has little sense of direction and fails to appreciate his advantages. Art views himself metaphorically, thinking of himself first as a wall but later, realizing that a wall separates, changing his metaphoric concept of himself to an ever widening portal that connects his mother and father with his friends.

Joseph “Joe the Egg” Bechstein

Joseph “Joe the Egg” Bechstein, Art’s father, an accomplished gangster who launders money derived from...

(The entire section is 696 words.)