Characters Discussed

Abel Tiffauges

Abel Tiffauges (tih-FOHZH), a garage mechanic in Paris. He is sure that he is marked by fate for a special destiny that is yet to be revealed. Physically, he is extraordinary, a giant who loves both milk and raw meat, a man attracted strongly by both children and animals, an “ogre.” The search for his real self begins in earnest when he is taken prisoner by the Nazis and sent to Germany, a land of signs and symbols. There, by keeping a “magic” journal written with his left hand, he will be able to decipher the meaning of everyday events and finally learn his destiny. From camp to camp, digging ditches, keeping animals in the game forest of Hermann Goering, and commanding the Kaltenborn Castle’s regiment of Adolf Hitler’s child army, Tiffauges seeks his fate, learning that signs and symbols are hard to read and that he is often confused by them. He does understand that, like his biblical namesake, he is meant to be a wanderer, a nomad fated to be hunted by the sedentary Cains as the Nazis hunt and kill both Jews and Gypsies.


Nestor, Tiffauges’ schoolmate at Saint Christopher and the janitor’s son. Enormous and myopic, just as Tiffauges will later become, Nestor bequeaths his own destiny to his friend before perishing in a boiler room accident. It is Nestor who first tells the young Tiffauges the story of Saint Christopher, the giant who carried the...

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The Characters

The protagonist of The Ogre, Abel, is also the lens through which the reader sees many of the book’s key themes and events. A third of the novel is written in a first-person journal style in which Abel reflects in an eclectic manner on the significance of life and its symbolism. Abel gives the reader the key terms, such as phoria, around which the action of the novel turns. He is not only the novel’s main character; he is also its first interpreter.

Through Abel’s description, the reader sees the events of his childhood in boarding school and his central relationship with Nestor. Abel also tells of the events which lead to his arrest for the rape of the young girl Martine. In fact, were it not for the novel’s major assertion that Abel’s inner life operates on the course of world events, Abel would be a perfect example of the unreliable narrator. In the conventional novel, for example, the reader would be left wondering if he had raped Martine or not. As it is, the reader is forced to suspend disbelief and question instead the historiographical record of the time.

The central paradox of the novel is that Abel during peacetime is a societal misfit, whereas during the war, he can do no wrong. Although society is ready to put him in jail for pedophilia in normal times, in time of war, he is rewarded for his ability to track down young boys for the war machine. All the while, Abel’s inner musings keep the reader off balance,...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


Cloonan, William. Michel Tournier, 1985.

Ellmann, Mary. “Recent Novels: The Ogre,” in The Yale Review. LXII (March, 1973), pp. 465-467.

Engel, Marian. “The Ogre,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXVII (September 3, 1972), pp. 7, 14.

Miller, Karl. “The Cyclopean Eye of the European Phallus: G. by John Berger, The Ogre by Michel Tournier,” in The New York Review of Books. XIX (November 30, 1972), pp. 40-43.

Redfern, W.D. “Approximating Man: Michel Tournier and Play in Language,” in Modern Language Review. LXXX (1985), pp. 304-319.