Resuscitation of a Hanged Man Characters

Denis Johnson

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Leonard is characterized by his actions and thoughts. The story is told in the third person from his point of view. From the beginning, the reader understands Leonard as a desperate man, one who is searching for something he probably will not find. Although Leonard is not a saint—he is drunk when he arrives in Provincetown and wrecks his car—he is a spiritual innocent. He has lost his faith, yet he still believes that he can redeem himself and find forgiveness for his actions. Like Dorothy in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), he has come from Kansas to a place seeking what he cannot find in himself; as in Oz, everything that is mundane and normal for Provincetown takes on a sinister meaning for Leonard. Leonard’s greatest weakness and strength, as pointed out by a reader of auras, is his ability to empathize with others. His ability becomes a problem only when he starts to empathize with imaginary situations.

Leanna Sousa, one of Leonard’s objects of redemption, is a local woman descended from Portuguese immigrants who settled the area. She runs a hotel, and while she initially tells Leonard that she is a lesbian, once Marla leaves town, she is quick to sleep with Leonard. As presented, this switch is not very convincing; Leanna is reduced to another element of Leonard’s confusion. Leanna’s bisexuality and the apparent ease with which she accommodates both Leonard and Marla in her life are unexplained; Leonard is unable to pin her...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Leonard (Lenny) English

Leonard (Lenny) English, a drunk in his early thirties with an unstable past. The story is told in the third person, from his point of view. He is troubled by his lack of faith and seeks absolution for his sin of attempted suicide, which occurred in the year prior to the beginning of the novel. One of his first acts after arriving in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, is to go to confession, but he finds himself unable to confess his sin to the priest. He has been unable to tell anyone why he tried to kill himself. Leaving church, he meets Leanna Sousa and is immediately attracted to her, but she says that she is “strictly P-town,” meaning that she is gay. Leonard is in Provincetown because he was hired by Ray Sands to work two part-time jobs, as a disc jockey and as a private detective. His first assignment is to tail Marla Baker and find out where she moved. She is a middle-aged divorcée with a lesbian lover named Carol. One night, Leanna visits Marla; she soon begins sleeping at Marla’s apartment. Leonard meets Leanna again and tells her about his unstable past, then admits to getting worked up about unimportant things and tells her that the only real question is whether God really killed himself. Leonard wonders about the propriety of spying on Marla and sends her a letter telling her that she is being followed; she leaves town shortly thereafter. Ray later assigns Leonard to find Gerald Twinbrook, Jr., a painter. After Ray’s death, Leonard takes over the case. He is kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity and begins to think that he has stumbled into some kind of conspiracy. In his increasing paranoia, he begins to draw connections between unrelated events, fearing that the kidnapping might have something to do with the Truth Infantry and his search for Gerald Twinbrook. He moves into Leanna’s hotel because he is afraid to go home and renews the search for Twinbrook. After Marla returns to Leanna as a lover, Leonard becomes less mentally stable and makes appeals to Leanna over the air while working at the radio station. He becomes obsessed with the Twinbrook case and suspects that Twinbrook may have been kidnapped by the Truth Infantry. Eventually, Leonard finds Twinbrook’s body, in a forestry camp in New Hampshire. After he returns to Provincetown, he goes to Leanna’s hotel, dresses in her clothes, steals a rowboat, and joins other boats in a procession for the annual Blessing of the Fleet. Using Leanna’s gun, he attempts to shoot Bishop Andrew, who is...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)