The War Between the Tates Characters

Alison Lurie

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Brian Tate, forty-six years old, holds an endowed chair in his department and has written two scholarly studies and a textbook, but “he is a dissatisfied and disappointed man.” With a long line of accomplished ancestors, he has felt the need to be successful but has not attained the deanship that he covets. All of his worldly efforts have been colored by his awareness of being only five feet five—and “all his adult life Brian had behaved so as to compensate for, even confute, the sign set on him by fate.” He has become, in fact, a dull man, a man whose self-discipline has led him to a dead end. Although his conjugal life has not always been perhaps as complete as his fancies have led him to dream, he has enjoyed a contented married life and has never exploited his students sexually. He has had his invitations and turned them down, scorning the weakness of colleagues who have fallen. “He loved Erica, and he had serious work to do.”

So although it is hard to admire Brian Tate, it is easy to sympathize with him in his misery. He certainly gets little profound satisfaction from his misalliance with Wendy. A middle-aged student of George Kennan and American foreign policy cannot be expected to find a gratifying way of life in the company of young rebels passing around joints and cliches about the establishment. He is at the end of the novel a chastened man, “embarrassed and ashamed of his behavior over the past year.”

For Erica Tate, the discovery of Brian’s affair is a crushing shock. Erica has always...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Brian Tate

Brian Tate, a political science professor at Corinth University in upstate New York, born into a long line of social achievers. Forty-six-year-old Brian is a dissatisfied and disappointed man. Because it is clear that his greatest accomplishment is to hold an endowed chair at a second-tier university, he suffers discontent in realizing that he will never be famous and important. While working on a new book, he is seduced by one of his students, Wendy Gahaghan, who convinces him that a physical relationship with her will abet the success of the book. After his wife, Erica, discovers the affair early in the novel, Brian agrees to break off the relationship. He does not quite do so, and Wendy eventually shows up in Erica’s kitchen, crying and pregnant. Brian is then kicked out of the house by his wife, with whom he is reunited at the end.

Erica Tate

Erica Tate, Brian’s wife, a homemaker, conservative, well-read, and alert. Erica’s actions usually are guided by a sense of moral righteousness, a holdover from her Presbyterian childhood. Erica accepts Brian’s initial affair with Wendy, but only on the condition that he break it off. A few months later, Wendy visits Erica to apologize for her crimes against Erica and blurts out that she is pregnant. Erica takes Wendy under her own care, orders Brian to leave the house, and then helps Wendy secure a then-illegal abortion. During Brian’s absence from the...

(The entire section is 551 words.)