The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In effect, there is only one character in The Works of Love, the protagonist. Although Gertrude’s fate is of concern to him, and the future of Will, Jr., a source of worry, neither these two nor any other character establishes a fully developed reality independent of Will Brady’s within the confines of the novel. The minor characters with whom Will is intimately connected obviously have an impact on his circumstances and on the various directions of his life. Still, they do not succeed in altering his nature or in influencing the manner in which he perceives life. On the contrary, they seem to dull his vision of the world.

In contrast, Will frequently encounters characters in the course of supposedly predictable social transactions who illuminate or reinforce the nature of his own experience. The anonymous man in California who speaks to Will of love and pity is a case in point. Similarly, there is Mr. Lockwood, a former college track star and current sporting-goods salesman, who carries clippings of his former triumphs in his wallet. He is an illustration in passing of a man who, like Will, is condemned to the narrowness of his own nature. “Some writer of books might even say that these clippings poisoned him”—just as the author of The Works of Love implies that Will Brady, having spent so much time at sea, metaphorically speaking, drowns at last in his own confusion.

The author’s decision to concentrate on Will...

(The entire section is 573 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Will Jennings Brady

Will Jennings Brady, a hardworking man who holds a number of jobs, but none for very long. A onetime handyman, night clerk in a hotel, hotel manager, chicken farmer, egg entrepreneur, and waybill sorter, he finally ends up as a department store Santa Claus. The son of Nebraska pioneers, orphaned at an early age, he lacks culture and education. A taciturn and kind but naïve man who does not drink, smoke, gamble, or swear, he embarks on a quest that takes him from the desolate western plains to Omaha, then to California, and on to Chicago in search of his airy dreams of wealth, happiness, and love. He attains none of these. Along the way, his fortunes briefly rise but mainly fall. As a husband and father, he is inept and incapable of understanding the needs of his family. After repeated failures, both as a businessman and as a family man, he turns Will, Jr., over to foster parents and heads for Chicago, where he dies penniless and alone, after falling into a sewage canal.

Ethel Czerny Bassett

Ethel Czerny Bassett, a widow who marries Will Brady. A Bohemian immigrant, quiet and somewhat religious, she relies on Will’s help after the death of her husband, owner of the hotel where Brady works. After marrying Brady, she goes with him on a honeymoon to Colorado Springs, but she spends her nights there rolled up in a sheet, afraid to consummate the marriage. After returning to Nebraska, she still...

(The entire section is 533 words.)