Resuscitation of a Hanged Man Characters
by Denis Johnson

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The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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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 down. The scenes between them best illustrate her elusiveness and the strangeness of their relationship.

Ray Sands, a former police detective, is seen by Leonard as two bosses—one at home, from where he runs his detective agency, and another at WPRD, the radio station. He seems to find nothing morally questionable about the spying he has Leonard doing, yet it is difficult for Leonard to judge him, especially after seeing the mild way he treats his unpredictable, possibly senile wife Grace. They have been married for forty-two years, and Sands knows how to “love without hope.” Around the radio station, however, Sands behaves with the stupidity of “the boss,” irrationally firing a reporter for no reason Leonard can see. Again, Sands is not what he appears to be; after his death, Leonard discovers three false passports in his desk and comes to believe that he was the head of the Truth Infantry.

Gerald Twinbrook is dead, but as a character, he functions as another paradox in Leonard’s life. Like Leanna, Twinbrook is an object of redemption; if Leonard can find him, perhaps he will be able to make meaning of his own life. His obsession with death and resuscitation gives the novel its title and core; through his notes, Leonard finds a kindred soul, one who talks to him in his paranoid imagination, giving him the guidance for which he longs.

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...

(The entire section is 1,512 words.)