Tenth of December

by George Saunders
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Characters

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Last Updated on February 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 947

Robin

Robin is the first character introduced and one of the story’s two narrators. A fanciful boy, overweight and imaginative, he has created a fantasy in which NASA hires him to hunt and battle mysterious creatures called Nethers. At the start of the story, Robin’s goal is to save the girl he admires—Suzanne Blesdoe—whom he imagines has been captured by lecherous Nethers. Instead, Robin ends up accidentally encountering Don Eber. Still caught between reality and imagination, yet somehow aware that Don is a real person who needs help, Robin demonstrates both his folly and his bravery by attempting to return Don’s coat. After Robin falls into the pond and Don saves him, Robin becomes a savior in turn. By running home to his mom and recruiting her help, he brings Don back to life, both literally and spiritually.

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Despite Robin’s living only partly in reality, he ends up saving a person in real life. He knows the right thing to do and follows through. Thanks to Robin, Don lives on.

Don Eber

Don Eber is, alongside Robin, one of the story’s two narrators. When Don first appears, he is reflecting on the complexities of his life. He had a difficult childhood. First his dad ran off with another man. His new stepfather, Allen, was initially a wonderful person. However, as he became sick, Allen became verbally abusive to Don and his mother. When he realized that he, too, was ill, Don decided he would not allow himself to follow in Allen’s footsteps. Thus, when we meet Don, he has come to the decision to kill himself.

As the story goes on, Don gradually reveals more of his life. He begins to regret the things he will no longer have. His wife, Molly, occupies his thoughts, as well as Tom and Jodi, his children. Memories of the good times they had together blend with his knowledge of their present-day situations, making Don hesitate. Still, given the nightmare of being sick, Don carries on with his plan. When attempting suicide, however, he instead ends up noticing Robin in the pond. With a burst of good intention and courage, Don saves him by removing his warm clothes and dressing Robin in them.

In his exposed state, vulnerable to death, Don is reluctant to die. His rescue of Robin is his saving grace, for he is saved in turn by Robin’s mom.

As the protagonist and the most complex character of the story, Don Eber undergoes major changes. He shifts from a state of resignation to a commitment to life. In the end, it is the value he has to another person—Robin—that overturns Don’s decision to die.

Mrs. Kendall

Mrs. Kendall is Robin’s mother. She is a woman who demonstrates great warmth and strength of action. She appears as a somewhat comical character at first, dressing in eighties clothes and worrying about her son, whom she calls her “magnificent little dude.” However, later in the story she runs out into the cold with piles of clothes to save Don Eber. Her courage and determination are what save Don from his half-desired death.

Molly

Molly is Eber’s wife, with whom he shares many beautiful memories. She is one of the main reasons he originally wanted to die. After experiencing the abuse heaped upon his own mother by her sick partner, Don would hate for Molly to suffer the same fate. Still, he knows her well enough to understand the anger and disappointment she expresses when she discovers his attempted suicide. At the end, Molly is a source of some stress. She is embarrassed at her husband’s attempted suicide. Yet her concern, which supersedes her embarrassment, touches Eber.

Allen

At once a hero and an enemy, Allen is the stepfather Eber remembers so vividly. At first Allen was a role model, a man Eber wished to emulate. Kind, curious, and vibrant, he represented everything Eber wanted to be for his own family. Then, as he sank into abusive behaviors during an illness, Allen came to represent the dark fate Eber is now, in his own illness, determined to escape. The memory of Allen’s decline is what pushes Eber to consider suicide in the first place.

Tom and Jodi

Tom and Jodi are Eber’s children. They are grown now, yet still young in his mind. Thinking of them in the present time is one of the reasons Eber decides he wants to live. Tom, a thoughtful and curious young man, and Jodi, who is expecting a baby, are reminders of the positive future that awaits in life, however much longer it may last.

Suzanne Blesdoe

A somewhat imaginary figure, Suzanne is a new girl in Robin’s school, having recently moved from Montreal. Most importantly, she is an object of fascination and affection for Robin. He imagines her being abducted by lecherous Nethers, and therefore she is the reason he sets out in the first place. In his imagination, Robin and Suzanne have many conversations. She represents the ideal woman. Though he does not really know her, Suzanne becomes an active participant in his imaginary world.

Nethers

Nethers are fictional creatures, imagined by Robin. He sees himself in conflict with them, and pits himself against their insidious plans. On the day he rescues Eber, Robin has created a story in which the Nethers kidnap Suzanne, and he must go save her from them. At first Robin imagines Eber as a Nether. They are a vivid part of the fantasy world he has created for himself—the ideal enemy, with whom there is constant struggle and eventual triumph.

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