They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Characters

Horace McCoy

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

There is little real character development in Horace McCoy’s novel. It might be said, however, that the characters become more deeply and essentially themselves, especially Gloria Beatty. From the outset, McCoy characterizes Gloria as a woman in the throes of extreme alienation. Brought up in West Texas by a sexually abusive uncle and a bickering aunt, Gloria has never known love, security, or happiness. Her experiences in Los Angeles in the depths of the Depression have only strengthened and reconfirmed her sense of life as desolate, absurd, and entirely unrewarding. Already having survived one suicide attempt, Gloria is increasingly obsessed with finding the courage and means to kill herself. A woman without any of the comforting illusions that allow people to function in the modern world, Gloria is a figure both monstrous and fascinating. Her nihilism is paradoxical. Though it is socially offensive and self-destructive, there is something to be said for the unflinching honesty and truthfulness that such nihilism exemplifies. In a world of sham, delusion, and hypocrisy, Gloria, to her credit, is having none of it. On the other hand, Gloria Beatty errs in equating a senile capitalist America with life itself. Her negativity is too radical and all-encompassing—it misses a greater truth about life.

Compared to Gloria, Robert Syverten is a rather weak and insipid figure through much of the novel. If Gloria remains stuck in disillusionment, Robert is...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Robert Syverten

Robert Syverten, a young man from Arkansas who has gone to Hollywood in the hope of becoming a film director. Although repeatedly frustrated in his efforts to get work with an established director, he maintains his optimism and holds down a variety of jobs, ranging from soda jerk to film extra, as he continues trying to break into the film business. He has just recovered from a near-fatal case of intestinal flu when he meets Gloria Beatty, an embittered aspiring actress who convinces him to be her partner in a dance marathon being held in a hall on one of the local piers. Robert dreams of winning the contest and using his share of the $1,000 prize money to make a two-reel film that he can use to illustrate his skills to the film studios. He fails in his efforts to cheer up the terminally gloomy Gloria, and as the marathon drags on for thirty-seven days, he becomes infected by her despair. He continues trying to catch an occasional glimpse of sunlight or ocean to remind him of the world outside the dance hall, but his ambitions soon dwindle simply to trying to survive the ordeal of the marathon. When the marathon ends prematurely with no winner, he obliges Gloria’s request to shoot her and put her out of her misery, a crime for which he is sentenced to death.

Gloria Beatty

Gloria Beatty, a film extra who has become disillusioned because of her inability to obtain acting work. An orphan who ran away to...

(The entire section is 591 words.)