The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Roger Lambert is both narrator and principal subject of this novel. As narrator, he serves as the medium through which events in the story are filtered, and his unusual capacity for self-reflection allows readers significant insight into his character. It also nudges readers to adopt his opinions of other characters, however, which may be at variance with the truth. A former pastor and now divinity-school professor, he represents the attitude of many Americans toward religion: For him it has become a form of social psychology and an intellectual exercise, divorced from any of the fervor of faith that characterized believers in earlier ages. He is uncomfortable when a devout believer such as Dale Kohler accosts his complacency. Nevertheless, the author creates him with sufficient sympathy for the reader to see him as a typical Updike hero: a complex individual struggling with desires of both the spirit and the flesh.

Esther Lambert is less well developed, largely because she is seen only through the eyes of her husband. A woman possessed of courage, she is willing to brook social convention to steal Roger from his first wife (ruining his work as a pastor in the process) and then to take up with Dale to fulfill a sexual appetite that her husband cannot satisfy. Though certainly not devoid of intelligence, she serves primarily as a complement to Roger’s overindulgence in intellectual pursuits.

Dale Kohler is a true believer in God; his passion...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Roger Lambert

Roger Lambert, a university professor of divinity. A former minister, Roger lost his pulpit when he became involved in an adulterous relationship with Esther, who later became his second wife. Now in his early fifties, Roger seems also to have lost his faith. Roger is an adherent of the reforming Protestant theologian Karl Barth, and his academic specialty is the Skeptics. His skeptical approach to religion is challenged by Dale Kohler, a graduate student who enters Roger’s life seeking funding for a project that will attempt a mathematical proof of God’s existence.

Dale Kohler

Dale Kohler, a computer expert and perennial student who has both a profound belief in God and an ambition to provide Him with an opportunity to speak to humanity through Dale’s digital manipulation of data. Dale serves as Roger’s “Inquisitor” as the two engage in lengthy debates about the import of God and the meaning of faith. Dale also serves as Roger’s foil when he becomes a tutor to Roger’s son and, consequently, Esther’s lover. By reintroducing Roger to his niece, Verna Ekelof, whom Dale meets in a church group, Dale provides a means for Roger to reconnect, if not with God, at least with the more mundane import of his own existence.

Esther Lambert

Esther Lambert, Roger’s wife. Now in her late thirties, Esther has grown weary of her relationship with her husband and concerned...

(The entire section is 487 words.)