The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This novel defines family members by their relationships to one another. All of their lives revolve around Will, both parents measuring themselves by their relation to, and responses to, their son. Because Will himself is too young to understand their motives, the reader sympathizes with him in his bewilderment, viewing the parents through Will’s eyes even as the author allows the reader to see how the boy has changed their lives. He is a likable five-year-old who remembers his mother’s counsel and tries to be a good son. He responds to Mel’s love, appreciates Corky’s kindness (they remain correspondents over the years), and ultimately becomes a loving husband and father. Throughout most of the novel, however, he is a child hoping to be reunited with his friend but unable to initiate the action.

Readers appreciate the difficulties of Jody’s predicament and admire her determination to forge a new career and yet remain a functioning mother to Will. Gradually, though, her manipulation of others becomes apparent: She accepts Mel’s love with reservations until the opportunity in New York persuades her to marry him, and she unhesitatingly photographs the private life of a real friend, Mary Vickers. Having made the mistake of marrying Wayne, she at first apprehensively and then more and more singlemindedly determines to realize her life as an artist. She sees only potential subjects for her camera. Even Will becomes mainly a subject for the cover of...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Will, the son of Jody and Wayne. At the beginning of the novel, Will is a small child living with his mother in Charlottesville, Virginia; both were abandoned by his father four years earlier. He is imaginative, loves playing with his G.I. Joe doll, and longs for a puppy. In the course of the novel, Will also becomes essentially abandoned by his mother and finds a truer parent/child bonding with his stepfather, Mel. Will, as an overriding focus of the novel, helps to define other characters as they do or do not connect emotionally with him.


Jody, Will’s mother. As described in the first section of the novel, Jody is a wedding photographer who has driven randomly to Charlottesville after being abandoned by her husband. The details of her background are unstated. The first impression of her is as a remarkable single parent who is doing an admirable job of supporting herself and her son. Small details accumulate that call her moral character into question, such as the fact that she mails manila envelopes throughout the year to her former husband; they are filled with such items as pharmacy receipts, bills, junk mail, and parking tickets. After Mel introduces her photographs to the New York art world, her career takes off, and she leaves most of Will’s upbringing to Mel.


Wayne, Jody’s former husband. As presented in the second part of the novel, Wayne is married for the...

(The entire section is 508 words.)