The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Deborah F. Blau

Deborah F. Blau, an attractive, blonde, sixteen-year-old Jewish teenager who has just been admitted to a mental hospital at the start of the novel. She is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite outward signs of privilege, Deborah has retreated into a fantasy world of her own creation, the Kingdom of Yr. Because she is completely dependent on this fantasy world, it is with great reluctance and much genuine fear that she enters into a trusting relationship with her psychiatrist, Dr. Fried. Although very disturbed, Deborah is nevertheless smart and precocious, with a sarcastic, superior manner. Her insults and snide remarks often contain clever wordplay. Her hunger to learn is genuine and divorced from her mental illness: Even when she is most ill, she thirsts for knowledge and cajoles a fellow patient into teaching her Greek and Latin. Her artistic ability also is real, and despite prohibitions against possessing pencils and paper, she manages to find ways to draw. Deborah carries deep within herself the strength and the will to live in the outside world. With Dr. Fried, she eventually learns to recognize and trust that power.

Dr. Clara Fried

Dr. Clara Fried, thought of as Furii by Deborah, a chubby, tiny, gray-haired psychiatrist who has left her war-torn native Germany. She is famous and internationally renowned when she takes Deborah’s case. Patient and perceptive, she is careful never to push...

(The entire section is 550 words.)