The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Joe Chapin is clearly the main character in Ten North Frederick, yet O’Hara gives almost equal time and attention to the people who figure prominently in Joe’s life. O’Hara’s method of examining his characters is always the same: In one part of the novel he devotes several pages to a full description of Edith in order to illustrate her extremely cold, rational, and calculating desire to control all the people around her (she marries Joe because she believes she will literally own him by doing so, for example). In another part of Ten North Frederick, O’Hara gives five pages to a contemplation of Mike Slattery’s life and political career, which blends impersonal or vindictive acts with those of unselfish generosity (he is a consummate politician). O’Hara regularly shifts into paragraph-long meditations that are designed to reveal a fundamental quality of each of his main characters. Joe’s best friend, Arthur McHenry, is perhaps the only purely good person in Gibbsville; yet his total dedication to Joe is powerless to prevent his best friend’s self-destruction. Ann, Joe’s favorite child (thirty-four years old in 1945), can sustain only physical relationships with men, which do not last very long. Joby, her brother, age thirty, gradually adopts a cynical attitude that barely disguises his inability to find any real direction in his life.

The portrait of Gibbsville life that emerges from such character descriptions is a detailed and complex one, especially as O’Hara weaves a large number of minor characters throughout the fabric of the Chapin world. One problem is that O’Hara rarely...

(The entire section is 668 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Joseph Benjamin (Joe) Chapin

Joseph Benjamin (Joe) Chapin, a right-minded snob, born into one of the wealthiest and most socially prominent families of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania. Joe is an only child, dominated by his mother, Charlotte, who has become cold to his father after two miscarriages. Joe has a strong sense of his place in Gibbsville and returns there after attending Yale. With his closest friend, Arthur McHenry, he builds a law practice and establishes a reputation for propriety and discretion. Haunted by the death of Marie Harrison, with whom he had a brief affair while in college and who later died in the abortion of another man’s child, he carries on an emotionally intense but sexually restrained courtship of Edith Stokes, whose family has an equal prominence in Gibbsville. Following his marriage to Edith, Joe is particularly fond of their daughter, Ann. He feels diminished, however, when he misses the experience of serving with the military in World War I. He eventually decides to pursue a career in politics, but he is devastated when he learns that he will not get, and never had a real chance at getting, the nomination for lieutenant governor. This revelation, combined with his increasing sense of his wife’s selfishness and of their failures with their children, leads him to become an alcoholic, and he eventually dies of cirrhosis.

Edith Stokes Chapin

Edith Stokes Chapin, Joe’s wife. Her reserved personality has caused her to be an enigma to almost everyone in Gibbsville. She is actually a very cold person who makes it her purpose in life to...

(The entire section is 659 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Many of the characters introduced or mentioned in Appointment in Samarra (1934) appear in Ten North Frederick. The novel begins...

(The entire section is 223 words.)