Last Updated September 9, 2022.
Holling Hoodhood is the novel’s main character, narrator, protagonist, and, in his curious and amusing way, hero. At the novel’s start, there is not that much to him. He seems nice enough, but he is rather passive, and has not done anything to distinguish himself. Then, through a twist of fate, he is put into a series of situations that transform him, bringing forth his inner qualities. Largely as a result of his interactions with Mrs. Baker, Holling becomes an actor, an athlete, and a more successful student. He emerges from his passivity—his own sister refers to his lack of guts early in the novel—to be quietly assertive. This can be seen in his choice to counsel Mrs. Baker on teaching, in his choice to apologize to Meryl Lee, and in his choice to spend his own money to rescue his sister. His parents essentially abandon her, leaving her stranded in Minneapolis with only $4. Not only does Holling, a seventh grader, cash in a savings bond, but he wires her the money, then pressures his mother into getting them transportation and food from the bus stop.Like the Shakespearean heroes he reads about, a good portion of his heroism is fate—but also like them, a good portion of his character comes from how he responds to fate. Any student could have accidentally covered the cream puffs with chalk dust while cleaning the erasers, but not every student would have recovered so well, so methodically, and so honorably.
Mrs. Betty Baker
Mrs. Betty Baker is one of those almost impossibly lofty representations of what a teacher should be—so elevated, in fact, that at times she seems too good to be true. (How likely is it that a seventh grader who is just getting started in cross-country would have an English teacher who ran track in the Olympics?) She recognizes Holling’s qualities before he does, pushes him to fulfill his potential, and steps up to mentor him and care for him when his own parents fail to do so. Her extracurricular activities—taking him to Yankee Stadium and on an architectural tour—make her seem like a guardian angel. Grounding her, however, in realism are her personal qualities and her pain. That is to say, early in the novel she seems genuinely not to want this boy in her classroom, and her irritation comes through. Then, throughout the novel, she is under strain as her husband is first fighting in Vietnam and then missing in action.
Though Holling refers to his school principal as a dictator, Holling’s father, Mr. Hoodhood, is the novel’s most chilling villain. Mr. Hoodhood is dangerous due to his virtues and his certainty. Mr. Hoodhood wants to be successful. It is not so much that he wants to be a great architect; he never shows any visionary designs or love of his profession. Architecture is not a calling. Instead, it is a business, a way of demonstrating how successful he is—as are his perfect house and his perfect family. Their actions are judged by how they contribute to his success, and that means that any rebellion, or even independence, is rejected as worthless. The result is a house and family that look perfect, like a designer showcase, but that are rotting from within.
Heather Hoodhood , Holling’s sister, is realistic but not overly well-developed, and this seems intentional: through the majority of the novel, Holling refers to her simply as “my sister.” It is not until they connect late in the book, after he has helped her get home when she ran away...
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to California, that he calls her by name. After that time, she seems real and realized to him (and the reader); before that, she is largely a collection of tics (yelling at her younger brother for embarrassing her) and period qualities (listening to the Monkees, painting a flower on her cheek). Nevertheless, the fact that she helps him pull down the embarrassing pictures of himself as Ariel shows that they have always had a bond, and one that in a way is the opposite of their parents’: their parents get along on the surface, but lack a deep connection. Heather and Holling fight on the surface, but connect in their hearts.
Last Updated September 9, 2022.
Holling Hoodhood is the lead character, a seventh grader at Camillo Junior High.Heather Hoodhood is Holling’s older sister, a would-be social revolutionary.Mr. Hoodhood is Holling’s father, a very ambitious architect.Mrs. Hoodhood is Holling’s mother, a passive figure.Doug Sweiteck is another seventh grader, one who tries to cause trouble.Doug Sweiteck’s brother is an older boy whom Holling trips during a soccer game.Mrs. Sidman is a teacher/administrator with bright red/orange hair.Ben Cummings is a friend of Holling’s who moved away.Ian MacAlister is another friend of Holling’s who moved away.Pastor McClellan is the Presbyterian preacher.Meryl Lee Kowalski is a seventh grader who has long loved Holling.Mai Thi is a Vietnamese girl sponsored by the Catholic Relief Agency.Danny Hupner is another seventh grader, and one of Holling’s friends.Mr. Guareschi is the dictatorial principal.Mr. Petrelli is the ditto-crazy geography teacher.Mrs. Edna Bigio is the school cook who bakes cream puffs.Mr. Venderli is the school’s custodian.Miss Violet is the school’s choir director.Coach Quatrini is the gym and cross-country coach.Mrs. Betty Baker is Holling’s strict English teacher and foe.Mr. Benjamin Goldman is the Shakespeare-loving owner of Goldman’s Best Bakery.Mr. Mercutio Baker is owner of the Baker Sporting Emporium.Mr. Kowalski is Meryl Lee’s father, and a competing architect with Mr. Hoodhood.Mr. Bradbrook is chairman of the school board.Mickey Mantle is the great Yankee outfielder who refuses to sign an autograph for Holling.Joe Pepitone is a popular Yankee first baseman and outfielder.Horace Clarke is a Yankee second baseman.Sycorax and Caliban are two escaped rats, named after characters from The Tempest.