Alan, the protagonist. The central consciousness in this novel, seventeen-year-old Alan copes with his family’s eccentric and crippling barrage of insults and recriminations. In many instances, he functions as mediator for his father and mother. He also shields his sister from his parents’ unreasonable treatment, yet he often resents their random favoring of her. He tries to provide a certain stability for his family, but he faces monumental patterns of dysfunctional behavior. He is attracted to Janet, a classmate, but is unable to understand how she can accept her family as anything but destructive. Although he receives poor marks at school, Alan is attentive to his perceived duties as a son, brother, and boyfriend.
Madge, Alan’s fifteen-year-old sister. Unmanageable and possibly emotionally handicapped, she sneaks into the woods to meet with a German prisoner of war. Madge’s unconventional behavior at home and in the village causes Alan embarrassment and understandable concern for her safety. Madge chides her parents for their empty lives, yet she often defends their behavior to Alan.
Alan’s father, a sickly perfectionist who dislikes his wife and children mainly because they intrude on his existence. He is highly excitable and unpredictable. Mysteriously self-employed, he sulks around the house and garden. He is a contemptuous yet grotesquely humorous character who often gives in to fits of rage, once burning his wife’s treasured family heirloom. He does not allow his children any latitude in their behavior even though he behaves in an infantile manner throughout the novel. Although he and his wife occasionally seems to get along, he is embittered toward her and typically wears a sneer in her presence.
Alan’s mother, a dramatic and prim woman who believes in the importance of appearances. When she goes out, she appears well groomed and stylish, but when she is at home, her appearance is slovenly and...
(The entire section is 492 words.)