The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Second Coming has a large cast of distinctive characters who are cleverly delineated, though not in great depth. This is partly because they are seen through the ironic consciousness of Will Barrett. He is unusually perceptive about fakery or seeming inconsistencies in human behavior, including his own. It bothers him, for example, that his daughter Leslie, so insistent about the joy of her personal relationship to Jesus, is continually frowning. He asks the chaplain Jack Curl point-blank if he believes that God exists and perceives in Jack’s confusion and double-talk the paucity of his religious knowledge. He intuits the meaning of Allie’s poetic and nonidiomatic speech, recognizing that she tries to express the truth of experience. Most of his acquaintances speak in jargon and trite phrases which have no precise meaning.

Yet Will’s experience of other people may be colored by the peculiar sickness of his soul. Certain characters seem to represent facets of Will’s own personality, his shadow selves, so to speak, whom he must exorcise in order to be sane. The most conspicuous of these, without doubt, is his father, whose preference for death has infected his very soul. There are others, however, such as his friend Lewis Peckham, who seems to represent the intellectual, or perhaps pseudointellectual, as ruined “natural man.” Lewis turns for meaning to classical music and great books, yet he seems curiously empty of any conviction. A more comic shadow self is Ewell McBee, a vulgar bully out of Will’s past who seems to represent his more bestial nature.

Will’s character remains something of a mystery to himself, to other people, and to the reader, an enigmatic combination of genial tolerance and inner coldness, at once curiously wise and hopelessly naïve, suspecting the worst, yet yearning for the best that human imagination can devise.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

William (Will) Barrett

William (Will) Barrett, a middle-aged Wall Street lawyer, now retired and living in North Carolina, playing a considerable amount of golf. He seems to have spent his life trying to escape the memory of his bitter, neurotic father, who committed suicide and once tried to kill Will in a hunting “accident.” Will is recently widowed, having married a rich, pious, and crippled woman who was devoted to good works. He is vaguely dissatisfied with his financial success, sensing that everything has been a mistake. Only in moments of distress or emergency does he feel that he knows exactly what he should be doing. He has periods of disorientation, sometimes falling down like someone having a mild epileptic seizure. Eventually, he “goes mad” and crawls into an obscure cave under the golf course to wait until God gives him an unambiguous sign of His existence—or to die of starvation if God does not make Himself known. He finds, however, that an acute toothache effectively renders his search for truth irrelevant. In his rush to escape from the cave, he loses his way, falls precipitously through a side tunnel, and crashes through a ventilator shaft into an old greenhouse occupied by a disturbed young woman who shares his alienation from society. Although his mysterious malady eventually is diagnosed in quasi-scientific terms, it still seems to be a psychological ailment rooted in unsatisfied emotional and religious needs.

Allison (Allie) Huger

Allison (Allie) Huger, a young woman who escapes from a mental institution where she was confined by her parents because she stopped talking. Although her memory has been partially wiped out by repeated electroshock treatments, she is intelligent and quite capable of solving complex problems, especially when they...

(The entire section is 743 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Will Barrett, the central character of The Last Gentleman (1966), is also the central character of The Second Coming (Percy...

(The entire section is 258 words.)