Aside from Deborah herself, there is little depth of characterization in this novel. Dr. Fried acts only in her role as a wise therapist, though the reader learns that she, too, is a Jew who has had personal experience of the Nazi Holocaust. Therefore, she has a special understanding of the old immigrant Jew, Deborah’s grandfather, who conveyed to his small granddaughter the bitterness and defiance he had learned in the old country.
Deborah’s father, mother, and sister receive some attention, though not enough for the reader to be entirely certain of their motivations. Suzy, Deborah’s sister, is understandably pained and confused that her older sister, off “at school” someplace, seems to dominate her parents’ attention. She is relieved when at last they tell her the truth, for then she understands and sympathizes with their anxiety.
Jacob Blau has some importance in Deborah’s psychic history. Deborah reveals that he had warned her obsessively about boys and men. Jacob, though meaning well, seems to have limited self-understanding; one suspects some unconscious incestuous impulses in his compulsive protection of his favorite daughter from the evil designs of men. The mother, meanwhile, finds herself in the uncomfortable position of keeping the peace between the rigid father and the independent child. Mrs. Blau lies to Jacob at first about the psychiatrist’s carefully guarded reports, lest he impulsively take their daughter out of the hospital.
Deborah herself is an unusually intelligent, creative girl, gifted in drawing and in languages. Most of her creativity, however, is devoted to her own inner world of Yr, which has a well-developed language of its own. Several “gods,” both male and female, inhabit this world, initially delightful creatures who offer her companionship when she feels lonely and desolate. There is a Censor, who effectively blots out uncomfortable knowledge, but also the Collect, who curses and criticizes her unmercifully, apparently representing all the negative judgments which she has collected through the years. As her illness deepens, what began as escape becomes a nightmare world where her delightful dream companions can engender pain and terror. Her intelligence and creativity, then, are not unmixed blessings, yet without these gifts, she might never have come to understand her illness well enough to withdraw from it.