The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jack Flowers

Jack Flowers, born Jack Fiori in North Boston, fifty-three years old and living in Singapore at the opening of the novel, which is a first-person memoir of his misadventures. His voice is comically candid but consistently underscored by a poignant thoughtfulness. He is a rascal with compassionate inclinations; a pragmatic panderer and a shameless poser, he secretly entertains very romantic illusions. He has lived with an energetic restlessness for imagined possibilities, and now he suddenly confronts the probability that his life will end in pathetic anonymity. The mundane death of William Leigh—whom Jack had very recently met and to whom he took an almost immediate dislike, although he would develop a reflexive understanding of him because of their comparable delusions—prompts Jack to establish a record of his life, not to impose meaning on it but to lend to it whatever permanence exists in the public expression of private experience.

William Leigh

William Leigh, a British accountant from Hong Kong, sent to audit Hing’s books. He assumes a transparently superior attitude toward Jack, who is supposed to see to his accommodations and entertainment. Despite his pretensions, William is clearly waiting out his retirement pension. In an uncharacteristic moment, he confides to Jack that he and his wife cherish the notion of retiring to a cottage in the English countryside. When William dies of a heart...

(The entire section is 458 words.)