The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Because Jacobson’s narrator is a young psychotic, his descriptions of the characters in his own life are necessarily unreliable; his story, the novel-within-the-novel, is also shaped by his psychosis, which accounts for both the blend of reality and science fiction and the parallelism between the two plots and the two sets of characters. In effect, the narrator tells what is happening to him and what has happened to him. Not surprisingly, the characters in his novel bear striking resemblances to the characters in his life.

The first indication of a possible tie between the narrator and Timothy occurs just after Timothy has transformed himself into a brick. The transmutation provides the first indication of Timothy’s own psychological problems, and while his creator denies responsibility, he sympathetically describes his creation as a “poor little devil.” As the story progresses, the narrator mentions a “chemical analogy” involving “the tendency of the remainder” of “molecules in a cooling liquid” to join those in “the solid.” While the narrator does not identify the other half of the analogy, it is tempting to assume that the resulting “sharp, cooperative phase transition” represents the joining of the two stories and the two identities. The narrator’s admitted “delusions” closely parallel Timothy’s own transmutational delusions, and both receive unsympathetic disbelief from their fathers when they attempt to win their...

(The entire section is 587 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Timothy Fogel

Timothy Fogel, a psychotic individual who parallels the narrator. Beginning with his conception and ending with the murder of Susie, the narrative traces Timothy’s development as a strange, isolated boy into a profoundly disturbed young man. As a child, Timothy believes he can transform himself into any inanimate form. Rejected by a young girl named Susie, young Timothy retreats into his subjective world, reveling in his meditative “power.” As Timothy matures, so does his obsession with his “gift” and Susie until, in an effort to possess Susie completely, he murders her and her unborn child.

Gerhard Fogel

Gerhard Fogel, Timothy’s father, a Jew who fled from Nazi Germany to settle in England. Gerhard is a commercial artist who leads a quiet, nondescript life. Although he is tortured by the possibility that Timothy is really Mr. Truter’s son, Gerhard accepts the “arrangement” between his wife and the landlord because of financial necessity. After his wife’s death, Gerhard attempts to understand and help his son, to no avail. An underdog, Gerhard contrasts to his counterpart in the novel, the narrator’s successful father.

Maureen Sullivan Fogel

Maureen Sullivan Fogel, Timothy’s mother, a large Irishwoman with copper-colored hair and large, crooked teeth. She works as a salesclerk in a tobacco shop. Maureen appears to be mentally handicapped in some way. She tells Timothy that, ever since she was rescued from the remains of a hotel destroyed by a German bomber, her mind has been damaged. Gerhard, attracted to her helplessness, married her. After their marriage, Maureen continued working as a clerk, and,...

(The entire section is 701 words.)