Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Pepper, the central figure, a linguist who tries to escape the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the Directorate and seek illumination from a distant contemplation of the primal forest that the Directorate strives to contain and destroy. Intellectually superior, he is nevertheless treated with condescending tolerance as a bumbling, naïve incompetent. He flees one nightmarish situation after another: wrestling with the illogic of a Forest Study Group bent on eradication and with the jargon-ridden nonsense of Directorate communications, encountering blindfolded men seeking a lost classified machine the sight of which is forbidden, being caught up in meaningless bureaucratic processes (such as room repairs scheduled at midnight), overhearing machines debating when they should demonstrate their dominance over humans, and finally finding himself inexplicably supplanting the old Director. Faced with the mechanistic, he feels compelled to exercise reason and to seek explanations. For him, hope lies in the human decency of “considerate” and “hospitable” people, but his peregrinations never reveal any. After a lifetime of senseless activities performed at the bequest of nonsensical directives, Pepper so accommodates himself to the system that, when he can bring change, he is trapped by a historical accumulation of absurdities that determine the course of his own directives, ones as cruel, chaotic, and meaningless as those of his much deplored predecessors. Pepper is the prototype of the intellectual who theorizes about life (the Forest) from a distance, is repulsed by closer contact with it, and is, in the end, content to be seduced by power. His “yearning for understanding” (what he calls “his sickness”) is cured at the cost of his humanity.


Kandid, Pepper’s counterpart, a scientist who, after ejecting from his crashing helicopter, finds himself trapped in the alien and ever changing forest among primitive villagers. Assumed to be dead by...

(The entire section is 819 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

When Acey and Alevtina find Pepper in the library, Alevtina calls him “pathetic,” which is not an inappropriate characterization of the protagonist of The Snail on the Slope. It is not that Pepper lacks insight—quite to the contrary. In the beginning, lobbing pebbles into the “living and silent,...all-enveloping indifference” beneath, Pepper is not only frustrated by his personal failure to come to terms with the mysterious collective entity of the forest, which has evaded all of his attempts at understanding, but he is also upset with the Directorate, the other collective life-form. Although he came expressly to study the forest, he has never been able to obtain a permit until he rather accidentally stumbles into the biostation; his talents are wasted by the bureaucracy.

Pepper is exhausted because he sees so clearly the futility, even maliciousness, of the efforts of scientists and engineers, who fail to accomplish even their foolish directives to “eradicate” in the name of progress that which evades their intellectual grasp. He accuses the library books of not helping humankind to make any real intellectual progress because they are either stuffed with comfortable lies or lack any use in the alien reality of the forest, which calls for intuitive idealism instead of bureaucratic fumbling and bone-dry scholarly instructions. Describing his ideology as “emotional materialism,” Pepper has the intellectual capacities to become a...

(The entire section is 603 words.)