Tommy Wilhelm, born Wilhelm Adler, an unemployed salesman living at the Gloriana Hotel in New York City. Middle-aged and separated from his wife and sons, Tommy is mired in a professional and personal slump. Almost broke, he seeks financial help but longs for spiritual solace as well, and he appeals to those around him for any help they can offer. His pleas to his father, not simply for money but for compassion or even a kind word, are met with scolding and impatient sighs of disgust. Down on his luck and reeling from some recent mistakes, Tommy is largely innocent of the selfishness and irresponsibility of which he is accused. Although misguided at times, he emerges as the most forgiving character in the story, compassionate even toward the father who has rejected him and torn inside at the thought that he might not be able to provide for the needs of his own two sons. Tommy’s struggles and his search for a humane response to his need underscore the novel’s major themes—suffering, compassion, and the blindness of greed.
Dr. Adler, Tommy’s father, a retired physician. Elderly and somewhat frail, Dr. Adler also lives at the Gloriana Hotel, but his substantial wealth allows him to indulge his taste for the luxuries the hotel offers—fine dining, saunas, and massages. It is not merely in his financial status, however, that he provides a stark contrast to his son. Tommy’s sufferings, though not enviable, are at least evidence of a rich inner life, and the pain that he feels is rooted in a concern for others as well as for himself. Dr. Adler, on the other hand, is moved to no emotion save anger, and even that he suppresses. He complains that the needs of others, even those of his own son, are an unwelcome burden on his hard-earned self-sufficiency. His sympathies, though never visible, are allegedly reserved for “real ailments”—fatal illness, injuries, and other physical hardships. He exudes a certain hardness, not only in his harsh assessment of Tommy’s pain as self-indulgent melodrama but also in his narrow concern for tangible, “skeletal” problems, such as the bone disease from which a retired business acquaintance suffers. His hard-hearted refusals not only add to his son’s misfortune but also serve to define Tommy further as a caring and generous man despite his limitations.
Dr. Tamkin, a self-proclaimed psychologist, poet, and healer, also a resident of the hotel. After Dr. Adler refuses to help his son, the eccentric and enigmatic Tamkin becomes the only alternative Tommy has in his search for a way out of his troubles. Dr. Tamkin (whose credentials are never established) allegedly “treats” a diverse clientele that seems to include a disproportionate number of attractive young women. Although he pays more attention to Tommy than does Dr. Adler, his behavior and his use of psychological jargon to deflect Tommy’s questions suggest ulterior motives, a suspicion that is confirmed at the novel’s end. Because there is wisdom and sense in much of what he says, he is able to exploit Tommy’s desperation and emotional vulnerability and divert attention from his own decidedly ungenerous actions. Tamkin speculates in the commodities exchange market, claiming that this market is driven by a collective guilt/aggression cycle that he understands and thus can predict. He persuades Tommy not only to invest with him as a partner but also to put up most of the front money. While at the exchange, he pressures Tommy, nervous about the downward turn in their investment, to escort an ill-natured old “friend” out on an errand. When they return, Tommy becomes frantic about their heavy losses, only to discover that Tamkin has cashed out what little money they had left and fled.
Mr. Rappaport, an elderly man who spends his days at the commodities exchange. The former...
(The entire section contains 1648 words.)
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