The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

More is introduced as a character alienated from his society. He wonders, when he comes back to Feliciana, whether something really has changed or if he has simply misremembered life outside prison. Throughout the novel, he questions his beliefs in the way the world operates, wondering about the propriety of running the heavy sodium experiment on unknowing subjects, including the children at the Belle Ame Academy. His is the voice of a social conscience.

More’s character is presented sympathetically. Even his conviction for selling prescription drugs is cast positively: He sold the drugs because he needed the money, but he also thought that they would help truckers to adjust to their schedules of long hauls without sufficient breaks to sleep. Readers will sympathize with the facts that his practice has all but disappeared and his wife no longer stays home, even though both are largely results of his own actions. His narration is friendly and informal, encouraging readers to like him.

The villains in this story do not appear in stereotype form. Their behavior appears to stem from humanitarian goals of reducing crime and, in Van Dorn’s case, increasing abilities. He uses water treated with heavy sodium to improve the mathematical skills of children at the Belle Ame Academy. Comeaux thinks like a stereotypical government bureaucrat, concerned with outcomes but not bothered by the moral questions involved in his actions. His threats to More...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Thomas More

Thomas More, a psychiatrist, psychiatric outpatient, and bad Catholic in a dissolute and decrepit postmodern Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. Dr. Tom, as he is commonly known, has settled down with his Presbyterian bride, Ellen, into what he believes to be a comfortable, if somewhat unlucrative, private practice. His female patients begin making sexual advances, presenting him with their hindquarters in a gesture that Dr. Tom finds disturbingly simian. He discovers correlating evidence of something awry when a local Catholic priest, Father Smith, holes up in a fire tower and refuses to come down. His fears are confirmed when even his formerly stalwart and conservative wife begins to act strangely and suddenly blossoms into one of the best contract bridge players in the world. All these oddities turn Dr. Tom into a detective. His research eventually leads to his discovery of a physical crisis emblematic of a larger spiritual crisis, a chemically caused worship of death and deviance that has gripped the parish. Dr. Tom reveals the cause of this syndrome, but only after personally facing the temptations offered by the chemical pseudo-cure.

Ellen Oglethorpe More

Ellen Oglethorpe More, the former nurse and longtime wife of Dr. Tom. Ellen becomes an inverse of her former self in the first two-thirds of the novel as she is affected by the sodium-based drug that two experimenters, Dr. Bob Comeaux and John Van Dorn,...

(The entire section is 548 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In a 1986 Paris Review interview, later reprinted in the "Writers at Work" series, Percy had kind words to say about the namesake and...

(The entire section is 684 words.)