Dana Breedlove is one of Jack’s ex-wives, and is Steffie’s mother. She is also the mother of Mary Alice, Jack’s oldest child. Jack was married to her twice. Dana works part-time for the CIA.
Tweedy Browner is one of Jack’s ex-wives. She is the mother of Bee and is now married to a man named Michael Hunt.
Dimitrios Cotsakis is one of the faculty members in the department of popular culture at the College-on-the-Hill. He is a former bodyguard who is Murray’s rival in the attempt to establish a power base in Elvis studies. Cotsakis drowns while surfing in Malibu.
Denise is Babette’s eleven-year-old daughter from a former marriage. Jack describes her as “a hard-nosed kid” (7) who is always badgering her mother to stop what Denise thinks are bad habits, such as chewing gum. Like Heinrich, Denise is precocious. Her favorite reading material is the Physicians Desk Reference. Denise finds her mother’s supply of Dylar tablets and hides them, then throws them away.
See Janet Savory
Vernon Dickey is Babette’s father. He makes an unexpected visit to the Gladneys, during which time he gives Jack the gun Jack will later use to shoot Mink. Dickey is a hard-nosed, very practical man who prides himself on knowing how to repair things. He does not have a high opinion of Jack because Jack lacks such skills.
Howard Dunlop is a former chiropractor who now gives German lessons. Jack goes to him to learn German. Dunlop is an eccentric character who appears never to leave his room in the rooming house where both he and Murray Siskind live. Jack tries to engage him in conversation, without much luck, but he does discover that Dunlop also gives lessons in Greek, Latin, ocean sailing and meteorology.
Babette Gladney is Jack’s wife. They have been married for less than two years, and it is a happy marriage, with emotional communication and physical intimacy. Babette is for the most part a well adjusted, capable, outgoing woman. She teaches a course in posture for older people at the local college, and volunteers to read to the blind. She is physically active, running regularly. But it also emerges that like Jack she has a fear of death, and this leads her into an arrangement with Willie Mink, alias Mr. Gray, in which she trades sex for the drug Dylar. When Jack finds out about this it has a negative impact on their marriage.
Bee Gladney is Jack’s twelve-year-old daughter from his marriage to Tweedy Browner. She has just spent two years in South Korea and wants to be a travel writer. She lives in Washington and visits her father at Christmas.
Heinrich Gladney is Jack’s fourteen-year-old son from his marriage to Janet Savory. Jack describes him as “often evasive and moody, at other times disturbingly compliant” (22). Heinrich is an incredibly knowledgeable young man who has all sorts of information and statistics seemingly at his fingertips. One of his hobbies is playing chess by mail with an imprisoned murderer. During the “toxic airborne event,” Heinrich’s knowledge is recognized by many of the evacuees, who gather around him as he talks about the toxic properties of Nyodene D.
Jack Gladney, who is known professionally as J.A.K. Gladney, is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. He is fifty years old and stands six feet three inches tall, weighing 230 pounds. Jack is a professor of Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill, a discipline he invented in the late 1960s and became an authority on, despite the fact that he does not know any German. (In the course of the novel he takes German lessons but finds learning the language difficult.) Whenever Jack is on campus he always wears dark glasses. He added the extra initials to his name on the advice of the college chancellor to give himself more presence and authority. Jack is a good husband to Babette and a conscientious father, but he is crippled by his all-pervasive fear of death, which becomes more acute after he is exposed to the toxic substance Nyodene D. His desire to obtain the pill Dylar, and his jealousy over his wife’s infidelity, lead him to commit a violent, out-of-character act when he steals a car, drives to a motel and shoots Willie Mink.
Steffie Gladney is Jack’s nine-year-old daughter from his marriage to Dana Breedlove. She takes part in the simulated evacuations and later makes plans to visit her mother in Mexico City. She is influenced by her older sister Denise, who puts the idea in her mind that her mother might refuse to send her back.
Nicholas Grappa is a member of the faculty of the popular culture department at the College-on-the-Hill. He takes part in spirited but trivial conversations with the other faculty members at lunchtimes.
See Willie Mink.
Elliot Lasher is a member of the faculty of the popular culture department at the College-on-the-Hill. Like the others he is originally from New York.
Sister Hermann Marie
Sister Hermann Marie is the nun who tends to Jack’s gunshot wound. She surprises Jack by telling him that she does not really believe in traditional Catholic doctrine.
Orest Mercator is a nineteen-year-old high school senior who is a friend of Heinrich’s. Orest is in training so he can break the world record for the amount of time spent in a cage with poisonous snakes. He has no fear of being bitten.
Willie Mink is the man Babette refers to as Mr. Gray. He is a member of the company called Gray Research which developed the pill Dylar. Mink gave Babette the pill in exchange for a regular sexual relationship in a motel. Jack eventually tracks Mink down in the motel and shoots him. His wounds are not fatal but it will take a long time for him to recover.
Bob Pardee is Denise’s father. He works as a fundraiser and visits the Gladney family just once during the novel.
Winnie Richards is a young research neurochemist at the College-on-the-Hill. People refer to her as brilliant. She is a tall but physically awkward woman who has a tendency to blush when people make amusing remarks to her. Jack asks her to analyze the contents of a Dylar tablet.
Janet Savory is one of Jack’s two ex-wives. Their marriage was not a happy one. At the time, Janet was a foreign-currency analyst. She later moved to Montana, changed her name to Mother Devi, and run the business activities for an ashram. She is the mother of Jack’s son, Heinrich.
Murray Jay Siskind
Murray Jay Siskind is a visiting lecturer in the popular culture department at Jack’s college. He is an ex-sportswriter who now wants to carve out a niche for himself in the department as an expert on Elvis. He and Jack become friends, and they often take walks together during which Murray expounds his theories on American culture, everything from television to the significance of supermarkets.
Alfonse Stompanato is the head of the popular culture department at the College-on-the-Hill. He is described as “large, sardonic, dark-staring, with scarred brows and a furious beard fringed in gray” (65). He has a forceful, dominating presence and a powerful intellect.
Mr. Treadwell is an old blind man who lives with his sister. Babette visits him in order to read to him. He and his sister disappear for a few days, and they are found, confused and disoriented, in an abandoned area of a large mall.
Wilder is Babette’s two-year-old son from a former marriage. He features in several important episodes in the novel, such as his nearly seven-hour crying fit and his miraculous trip on his tricycle across a busy highway.