The only major character in the novel is Jack Flowers. Born in 1918 as John Fiori, the second child of Italian immigrants in the North End of Boston, he is a combination of innocence and experience, control and chaos, with similarities to Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926), Saul Bellow’s Augie March, Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961), and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The novel’s first-person narrator, he is a complex, multifaceted protagonist who evolves over the course of the action; as he explains at the beginning, “being slow to disclose my nature is characteristic of me.” With red hair—what is left of it—big belly, and tattoos, he is “the ultimate barbarian” to some, especially those, such as Eddie Shuck, who accept his surface as the real Jack: “I resented comparisons, I hated the fellers who said, Flowers, you’re as bad as me!’ They looked at me and saw a pimp, a pornocrat, an unassertive rascal marooned on a tropical island, but having the time of his life: a character.”
Jack is both searching for and denying his identity. He says that his assumed name is “an approximation and a mask”; he always hides behind one mask or another. Around Yardley, Frogget, Yates, Smale, and Coony, the English expatriates who frequent the Bandung bar and are the closest that Jack comes to having friends, he tries “to give the impression of a cheerful...
(The entire section is 493 words.)