The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Charles (Chick) Swallow

Charles (Chick) Swallow, a fortyish columnist for the Decency, Connecticut, Picayune Blade. His sympathetic pen and ear win him more friends than he wants. His reinvolvement with a girlfriend from adolescence, Sweetie Appleyard, prompts him to apologize for his excessive conventionality, as opposed to her strained and theatrical feeling that she is special and needs special allowances made for her. He is just silly enough and she just barely reasonable enough that here is some plausibility to each case.

Crystal Swallow

Crystal Swallow, Chick’s wife and the mother of his three children. Crystal has a sense that she is trapped in a “chintz prison.” She is a pre-women’s liberation example of an educated woman who believes that her abilities are not being used well in her role as wife and mother, however urbane the setting.

Elizabeth “Sweetie” Appleyard

Elizabeth “Sweetie” Appleyard, a childhood sweetheart of Chick described by her father as an Emily Dickinson without talent. Hers is a case of arrested development—sexual and other—caused, her father thinks, by the traumatic interruption of Chick’s early attempted seduction of her. After she has reentered Chick’s life as a baby-sitter, her father asks Chick to complete the seduction. Chick fails, and she goes off to the Village to try to live like, if not be, a poet. Damning the...

(The entire section is 519 words.)