Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675
The major characters in Pylon are complex. Indeed, there are few “flat” or simplified characters in the book, and they appear only in chance encounters. Some difficulty is caused by names—when a major character appears in the course of the narrative, Faulkner frequently fails to name him, and the reader is often given a phrase like “the boy” or “the woman.” Keeping the characters straight is often as confusing as in a Russian novel, when the reader is given only a first name or patronymic—if anything, it is even more difficult with Faulkner. This difficulty has a rationale: Faulkner usually follows the point of view of a specific character very closely, and if that character does not think in terms of a name, then Faulkner does not provide that name. The reporter knows LaVerne only from a distance, so for him she is never LaVerne, only “she” or “the woman.”
On the other hand, the characters are highly dramatic—Faulkner describes almost all of them with a heightened physical presence and various meaningful accompanying objects. For example, Jiggs the mechanic has the boots he is buying as the novel opens. These are his prized, most valuable possession, and they acquire enormous significance as the action proceeds. At the close of the novel, he pawns them. Jiggs is one of Faulkner’s most successful creations: Poor, totally irresponsible, sly, and predatory, he is the cause of the first accident in the story—instead of pulling the valves from the motor and inspecting their stems, he gets drunk; the plane performs badly as a result, and the parachutist almost breaks his leg. In Faulkner’s words, Jiggs is a “vicious halfmetamorphosis between thug and horse.” He is a memorable addition to Faulkner’s gallery of extremely harmful, evil characters, whom he succeeds in portraying not only from the outside but also from the inside, from their own point of view—an astonishing feat, of which few other novelists are capable.
In the course of the book, the reporter’s name is given only once, in passing. As if to compensate for this, Faulkner endows him with a unique appearance. He is extremely thin, referred to as a scarecrow, a lath, a “person made of clothes and bones,” “a cutglass monkeywrench or something.”He did not speak loudly, and with no especial urgency, but he emanated the illusion still of having longsince collapsed yet being still intact in his own weightlessness like a dandelion burr moving where there is no wind. In the soft pink glow his face appeared gaunter than ever, as though following the excess of the past night, his vital spark now fed on the inner side of the actual skin itself, paring it steadily thinner and more and more transparent.
Perhaps the nature of his personality explains why he is almost never named; he becomes consumed by his reportorial function, a “fly on the wall” who comes to live vicariously in the lives of those he observes. He ceases to have any life of his own and even stops being a reporter—he is fired, and he becomes an active agent of the plot, almost a member of the flying team. Despite this peculiar, leechlike psychological mechanism, Faulkner makes clear that he has little understanding of those he is trying to help. Toward the end of the novel, the parachutist advises him, “Only take a tip from me and stick to the kind of people you are used to after this.”
What distinguishes Faulkner’s characters is, above all, their presentation both from within—from their own subjective point of view—and from without—from the points of view of others. This gives them a unique amplitude and depth. The point of view changes many times in the course of the novel, and the reader will not find the “unified sensibility” of which Henry James wrote—as a consequence he might occasionally be confused. On the other hand, the reader will encounter numerous characters presented in great depth and urgent, compelling life.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606
Lazarus, a reporter, the major protagonist. He is described as tall, gaunt, and pale; often he is called the specter man or is likened to a cadaver or a corpse. Covering the air show at the dedication of the new airport, he becomes involved with a flying team, giving them lodging in his room and providing them with food, drink, and money. He is, falsely, said to have had no origin and to have no family; his mother calls on his editor on one occasion. He suffers in various ways because of his infatuation with the team. Indirectly, he causes Roger’s death.
Roger Shumann, a pilot and leader of the flying team. He shares LaVerne with Jack Holmes. In the competition, he places well in his first race, crashes his plane in the second, and loses his life crashing an experimental plane in his third.
LaVerne Shumann, an attractive and desirable woman. She is the mother of young Jack; either Roger or Jack Holmes is the father. After discovering her pregnancy, Roger and Jack shot dice to see which of them would marry her: Roger won to become the lucky bridegroom. LaVerne wears coveralls and does mechanic’s work with the men; she has been an exhibition parachute jumper. At the end, she leaves the boy with Roger’s parents and departs with Jack Holmes. She is pregnant again.
Jack Shumann, the son of LaVerne and either Roger Shumann or Jack Holmes. He bears the first name of one and the last name of the other. He is enraged when anyone asks who his father is. The reporter buys him ice cream and candy. Jack sleeps in the reporter’s bed with Roger and LaVerne. He calls team members by their first names.
Jack Holmes, a parachutist and member of the team. He is described as taller than the others. Toward the end, he has injured his leg but continues to perform. Unlike Roger, he becomes violently jealous when anyone other than Roger shows interest in LaVerne. On one occasion, he attacks the reporter while enjoying his hospitality.
Jiggs, a mechanic and member of the team. He is short and stocky. He is caught up in acquiring a new pair of boots, even though there is less than enough money for food and lodging. A former exhibition parachutist, he leaves the team and returns to his previous line of work. He is a heavy drinker, and his inability to perform his duties results in the first crash.
Hagood, the reporter’s editor. He is hard-nosed and businesslike on the surface, but he relents, giving money to the reporter and reversing his decisions to fire him.
Colonel H. I. Feinman
Colonel H. I. Feinman, the chairman of the New Valois Sewage Board. The airport, which is more or less the result of his efforts, is named for him. He is also the authority who decides that Roger will be permitted to fly the death plane. He utilizes all the available beds for his guests, leaving the flying teams with no lodging other than in town.
Dr. Carl Shumann
Dr. Carl Shumann, a Midwestern family physician. A good man, he makes little money, serving his patients in any place and any kind of weather. Having financed Roger’s first plane, he has mortgaged and lost his home and is now living in a smaller one. He and his wife take in young Jack without knowing whether he is their grandson. He throws the reporter’s money in the fire, thinking that it has come from LaVerne.
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