Charles Swallow’s life imitates art. At the beginning of the novel, he imagines himself a Marquandian hero, and when confronted with difficulties in life, he translates them into scenes from William Faulkner, Theodore Dreiser, and Ernest Hemingway. To cure Elizabeth Appleyard, he naturally turns to a novelist—believing that fiction teaches people how to live, absorbed as he himself is in the world of the books he has read.
Though Swallow’s views are clearly derivative, he is capable of clever observations, and it is through his eyes that the reader sees the others in the novel. Naturally, he likens them to literary characters: Madame Piquepuss resembles Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1860-1861); Nickie Sherman is a latter-day Oscar Wilde. Beyond these stereotypes, though, Swallow notes minute, revealing details. Madame Piquepuss’s long fingers resemble fried bananas. Later, when he feels more sympathetic toward her, he likens them to chocolate eclairs.
Clothes are significant in showing character. Beth Appleyard’s initial reluctance to wear shoes and her preference for long, white gowns suggest the child playing at being an adult. Having become a liberated woman, she dresses—and undresses—like a flapper. Upon reverting to childishness, she again appears in white and barefooted.
Language, too, serves to reveal states of mind. Relaxed at the start of the book, Swallow talks like a...
(The entire section is 467 words.)