What I'm Going to Do, I Think Characters

Larry Woiwode

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Not only is this novel focused on the internal action of its characters (their thoughts, feelings, motivations) more than on external action, but it also is further focused or delimited to a small group of characters. This economy contrasts with many modern works of fiction that teem with individuals, including Woiwode’s own second novel, Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album (1975), which introduces sixty-three characters by the end of the second of forty-four chapters. On the other hand, beyond the six principal characters of What I’m Going to Do, I Think, there are only a dozen or so more characters mentioned (some treated for only a few sentences) in its 309 pages.

This intentional narrowing of focus helps convey the intensity of the main characters’ inner lives as well as the contraction of their world. Chris and Ellen are continually doubting, thinking, worrying, and feeling about who they are, what they should believe, and what they should do next. Besides occasional forays into the world of nature at the lodge, their world is circumscribed—limited to each other (and to concern about the unborn child) and, too often, unfortunately, to themselves as individuals. The overwhelming atmosphere of the novel is one of unhappy isolation and solipsism.

At the same time, Woiwode vividly depicts characters by using exterior detail, though almost always in order to reveal personality. Ellen moves with a “sad sashay” (Chris’s repeated phrase) when sorrowful, suggesting her self-absorption and obliviousness to the outside world; Grandma Strohe habitually holds her elbows tight at her sides, suggesting her strictness and belief in self-containment; Grandfather Strohe’s appearance...

(The entire section is 707 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Christofer (Chris) Van Eenanam

Christofer (Chris) Van Eenanam, a graduate student in mathematics at the University of Chicago. At the age of twenty-three, he is still deeply unsure of his identity. His inability to resolve the conflicts within his personality, partially caused by the loss of his Catholic faith, undermines his relationship with Ellen Strohe even after their marriage. His feelings about her, and about virtually everything important to him, are deep but inconsistent. Always having to prove himself to himself, he is unable to provide Ellen the attention and understanding that she needs. After a tumultuous three-year relationship, begun when they were university students, they are married when Ellen becomes pregnant. The novel begins as they arrive at her grandparents’ lodge in northern Michigan, where they spend their honeymoon. During the summer, as Chris repairs the lodge, he struggles with his ambivalent feelings about being a husband and prospective father.

Ellen Sidone Anne Strohe Van Eenanam

Ellen Sidone Anne Strohe Van Eenanam, Chris’s pregnant wife. The twenty-one-year-old woman, brought up by her grandparents after the deaths of her parents in an accident, needs reliability and consistency in a lover to bring her out of her shell. She, too, is unsure of her feelings about the marriage and about being a mother. Her pregnancy only increases her self-absorption, and Chris’s ambivalence...

(The entire section is 461 words.)