Frank Friedmaier, an idler, robber, and killer. The son of a former prostitute (now a madam) and of an unknown father, Friedmaier is short and boyish. He is nineteen years old when the story begins. His outward lack of emotion, disconcerting to others and terrifying to his mother, conceals an intense desire to find a stable place in the chaos of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although he craves attention, he despises those who demonstrate affection for him. He bullies his mother, who fears him, even while he lives off of her earnings; he is contemptuous of the source of his money, of his mother’s pliable morality, and of himself for taking advantage of both. He kills a woman who had befriended him in his childhood; he assaults Sissy Holst, who adores him; and he loathes the prostitutes who satisfy his physical needs. Imitating his wealthy and obviously criminal friend, Fred Kromer, Friedmaier decides on murder as a method of self-assertion. Even as he kills, he realizes that what he is really trying to do is attract the attention of his respectable neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, who is, for Friedmaier, a father figure. In prison, Friedmaier finally finds the structured life he craves. When Holst and Sissy visit him, the former treats him with paternal affection despite his abuse of Sissy, and Sissy, despite his cruel tests of her, asserts her lasting love. Now fulfilled, Friedmaier is ready to die; he confesses his two murders and is shot.
Lotte Friedmaier, Frank’s mother, a former prostitute, now a madam. A blowsy, reddish-blonde, overweight woman with a youthful face, Lotte runs a manicure parlor on the third floor of a boardinghouse; it actually is a brothel. She hires young girls, trains them...
(The entire section is 723 words.)