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, 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, a fellow book salesman in New York and Philip’s second friend. Like Philip,...
(The entire section is 688 words.)