Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Philip Branden

Philip Branden, the protagonist, a young Swedish immigrant to America. Tall and thin, with blue eyes and fair hair, Philip is educated, well-traveled, wealthy, cultured, and a bit pretentious; he speaks five languages fluently, knows fine wine, and has an eye for good clothing. When his money runs out and he travels to the United States at the age of twenty-four, he finds that none of these accomplishments is of any value to him in making his way in the New World. As he wanders from Toronto to New York, through the Midwest and into the Dakotas, he works as a waiter, a door-to-door salesman, a factory worker, and a harvester. He quickly learns that he is better suited for intellectual than manual labor. As he searches for work and for the America of Abraham Lincoln, he reflects on nature, art, education, and American and European values.

Frank Carral

Frank Carral, a waiter in a Toronto restaurant and Philip’s first real friend in America. Frank is a small young man with a pleasant voice, dancing eyes, and a laughing manner, and he is the most successful waiter on the staff. Philip learns, however, that Frank is successful because he steals, and Frank defends his petty graft on the grounds that it is simply the way things are done in the United States. As it turns out, Frank is living under an assumed name, hiding from the wife he abandoned in Buffalo. He encourages Philip to try New York City and provides him with the names and addresses of contacts there. All the names turn out to be phony.

Mr. Ray

Mr. Ray, a fellow book salesman in New York and Philip’s second friend. Like Philip,...

(The entire section is 688 words.)

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

While it is generally assumed that A Search for America is a fictionalization of Frederick Philip Grove’s own immigrant experience in North America, there is confusion on this matter. Grove concealed his European past from everyone, including his family. Research by Douglas O. Spettigue published in 1973 identified Grove as a German, Felix Paul Greve, who had faked suicide and fled to America. No one is yet certain what Grove was doing in the years between 1909, when he arrived in Canada, and 1913, when he surfaced again as a teacher in Manitoba. The events described in the novel have a solid feel of authentic experience, which suggests that autobiographical material has been incorporated.

Branden is twenty years old when he leaves Liverpool for Montreal. A self-expressed “insufferable snob and coxcomb,” he finds himself cast loose in the world after his father’s fortune runs dry. As he moves through America, he must descend to the bottom of the social scale, cast off his upper-class, European conditioning, and confront his personal spirit. The novel is subtitled “The Odyssey of an Immigrant,” and in true Odyssian fashion, Branden moves through the novel encountering shysters, con men, hoboes, hermits, saints, and sinners in his search for the spirit of Lincoln’s America. Along the way, readers watch him strip away the historical past of Europe and move on to the acceptance of a future based upon ethical response to his fellowman....

(The entire section is 409 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Spettigue, Douglas O. F.P.G.: The European Years, 1973.

Stobie, Margaret. Frederick Philip Grove, 1972.