Oh What a Paradise It Seems Characters

John Cheever

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cheever’s characters, while not flat, are sketchily drawn—caricatures which capture essential details and may offer a hint of satire. In his comments, however, the narrator, as intimate observer, reveals (and sometimes comments on) the characters’ thoughts, giving the characters greater depth and complexity than they appear to have at first.

Lemuel Sears is an apparently successful, well-traveled businessman, an executive for a computer-container manufacturer. “Old . . . but not yet infirm,” he fears that age may bring the “end of love.” Love for him satisfies more than a physical desire; love fills a spiritual void as well. For Sears, “a profound and gratifying erotic consummation is a glimpse at another’s immortal soul as one’s own immortal soul is shown.” While Sears does not live in the past, details of the present constantly call up memories of earlier times and places that reveal his eye and ear for detail, his sense of place, and his love of the sensual. These memories and his patrician manners associate him with values that have endured.

Renee Herndon, who accommodates Sears’s lustiness and brings physical love into his life again for a brief time is drawn in less detail. To Sears, she is “a remarkably good-looking woman” of thirty-five or forty. Involved with numerous unidentified self-improvement groups, she is a mysterious, unpredictable character who repeatedly tells Sears that he does not “understand...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lemuel Sears

Lemuel Sears, an old but still quite athletic man who has an unspecified but clearly quite high-ranking position with a firm specializing in “intrusion systems for computer containers.” An odd mixture of innocence and lustiness, and of spirituality and carnality, he associates fleetness with divinity. Twice widowered, he spends much of his time pursuing the pleasures of the flesh, concurrently seeking to purify not only a contaminated pond where he has twice gone ice skating but also his own spiritual nature. He is strongly attracted to the past, but his nostalgia is not at all negative. He loves permanence and light and has an equally strong aversion to “nomadism” and “netherness.” Overcoming his own comical shortcomings, including an inflated sense of his sexual prowess, he manages to restore Beasley’s Pond to its pristine state, to effect his own moral salvation, and to affirm the natural world as a paradise.

Sears’s eldest daughter

Sears’s eldest daughter, who lives in Janice, close to Beasley’s Pond. The relationship between father and daughter is practical yet profound and marked by a certain degree of skepticism.


Amelia, Sears’s “sainted” first wife, who died at the age of forty. She put Sears in touch with a spiritual stratum of existence, one from which Sears believes she came and to which she has gone, and where he believes they will meet again.


Estelle, Sears’s second wife, whom he realizes he never really knew. She claimed to be able to tell the future. All of her predictions were, however, pessimistic; none dealt with the triumphs of the spirit. Convinced of her own powers of clairvoyance, she disregards a stranger’s warning and is struck and killed by a train in Philadelphia.

Renée Herndon

Renée Herndon, an attractive divorcée from...

(The entire section is 795 words.)