Mr. Anticol is a neighborhood junk dealer and avowed atheist who loves to discourse against religion, having lost his faith after witnessing a massacre of Jews in his town back in Europe.
Basteshaw is a biophysicist who works as ship’s carpenter on the McManus, the ship Augie is assigned to while in the Merchant Marines during World War II. After their ship is sunk by torpedoes, Augie and Basteshaw are the only survivors and end up on the same lifeboat. Augie gradually realizes that Basteshaw is an insane genius. Convinced that he has the power to create life from protoplasm, he tries to convince Augie to go with him to the Canary Islands and be his research assistant. In reality, their lifeboat is nowhere near the Canary Islands. Basteshaw ties Augie up to stop him from signaling a ship that might rescue them. Finally Augie gets free, ties up Basteshaw, and manages to signal a British tanker to rescue them.
Bavatsky is a drunken handyman employed by the Einhorns.
Betzhevski is a red-headed Polish barber and tenant of Einhorn’s who leads a protest against Einhorn for his unethical behavior as a landlord. Einhorn evicts him.
Iggy Blaikie is an expat writer living in Acatla, Mexico.
Bluegren is Augie’s boss at the flowershop. An imposing man with cold blue eyes, he is a friend of dangerous gangsters.
Borg is Simon’s boss at the newsstand in the La Salle Street Station. Augie works for him but is fired because he allows customers to shortchange him.
Sailor Bulba is an accomplice in the robbery committed by Joe Gorman and Augie. Brute-nosed and bearish, he is a menacing, dangerous figure.
Caligula is the bald eagle adopted by Thea and Augie. Thea wants to train him to catch large iguanas, but the eagle is not aggressive enough.
Stella Chesney is a beautiful aspiring actress—her name means “star” in Latin—whom Augie meets in Mexico. He helps her escape her boyfriend, Oliver, and much later meets her again in New York and marries her. Augie learns that Stella has lied to him about many things, but he continues to love her despite her faults. They move to Paris so that she can pursue her film career.
Hyman and Anna Coblin
Anna Coblin is Mama’s cousin. Augie goes to live with her family so he can help them deliver newspapers. Hyman Coblin is a steady man who enjoys going to burlesque shows downtown. He is generous with Augie. Anna, a big, emotional woman with spiraling reddish hair, dotes on Augie and hopes he will marry their daughter Freidl one day. They also have a son, Howard, who was in the war in Nicaragua.
Cox is the handyman at Simon’s coal yard.
Dingbat is the half brother of William Einhorn. He dresses like a gangster and is taken up with gang events and crime, although not a criminal himself. He spends much of his time hanging around the family’s poolroom, Einhorn Billiards. He also tries work as a fight promoter, but is not successful.
Arthur Einhorn is William Einhorn’s son who is in college at the University of Illinois in Champaign. An intellectual who studies poetry and wants to write scholarly books, he falls in love with Mimi. His relationship with his father is strained after Arthur has a baby and then divorces his wife, leaving the child to be raised by his parents.
Tillie Einhorn is William Einhorn’s wife. A heavy, attractive lady, she worshipfully obeys her husband and tolerates, or overlooks, his extramarital affairs. After the stock market crash, she helps make money by running a cafeteria inside the poolroom.
Einhorn is a highly intelligent and wealthy real-estate broker whom Augie goes to work for while still a junior in high school. As Einhorn is crippled and wheelchair-bound, Augie carries him to and from the car and assists him in other daily activities. Einhorn loses almost everything in the great stock market crash, but works hard to build his business up again.
Einhorn Senior, “the Commissioner”
The Commissioner is Einhorn’s elderly father. An important and respected man, he is a real-estate broker who owns and controls many properties in the city. Married multiple times, he is an affable womanizer.
Esther is the younger of the two Fenchel sisters, beautiful heiresses whom Augie meets at a resort hotel with Mrs. Renling. When she refuses to go out with him, Augie faints. Esther’s more passionate older sister, Thea, falls in love with Augie.
Thea, the elder of the two Fenchel sisters, is a glorious-looking girl with kinky black hair and a passionate spirit. She falls in love with Augie at a mineral spring resort, but Augie is in love with her sister, Esther. Thea later comes to find Augie in Chicago, and the two move to Mexico together. Thea, whose name is Greek for “goddess,” is an eccentric woman with wild ideas; she wants to hunt with an eagle and catch poisonous snakes. In the end she finds Augie too ordinary for her. After they part ways, she marries an Air Force captain.
Old Fenchel and Mrs. Fenchel
Old Fenchel is the fat, black-eyed uncle of Thea and Esther. He is in the mineral water business and the girls are his heiresses. His wife is sickly, timid, and silent.
An employee of the Einhorns, the pretty and promiscuous Lollie is also William Einhorn’s mistress for a time. She leaves the family’s employ after the stock market crash and ends up being killed by a boyfriend.
Cissy Flexner is Simon’s fiancée. She is beautiful and tall, with an impressive figure, but dumb and conceited. Her father, Joe Flexner, is a dry-goods shopkeeper who also lost everything in the crash. Cissy marries Five Properties instead of Simon.
Hooker Frazer is Mimi’s lover and the father of her unborn child. When Augie first meets him, Frazer is a graduate assistant in political science, a Communist intellectual. Later, he is in Mexico working as a secretary for the exiled Leon Trotsky, and in China working as an intelligence agent. Finally, Augie meets him in Paris, where he is working for the World Educational Fund. Augie greatly admires Frazer’s prodigious intellect.
Sophie Geratis is a beautiful Greek girl who works as a chambermaid. Augie meets her when he is working as a union organizer, and the two become lovers. Sophie is engaged to someone else and Augie leaves her to go with Thea. They reunite later, but Augie leaves her again for Stella.
Joe Gorman is a notorious Chicago thief whom Augie meets in the poolroom. Augie helps Gorman with a robbery and later goes on a road trip with him to move illegal immigrants across the border. The police catch Gorman, but Augie gets away.
Grammick is Mimi’s friend the union organizer. Augie works with him before going to Mexico.
Old Granum works as an assistant to the the undertaker, Kinsman, and is present at the Commissioner’s deathbed.
Jacinto is the houseboy at Thea’s home in Acatla. He helps them on their hunting excursions.
Jacqueline is the ugly but proud housemaid who works for Stella and Augie in Paris. When she declares to him that it is her dream to go to Mexico, Augie breaks out laughing. He finds it both ridiculous and wonderful that such a used-up, ugly-looking girl has such an indomitable spirit.
A cousin of Tillie Einhorn, Karas is a businessman and owner of Holloway Enterprises. As a union organizer, Augie helps organize a strike of worker at Karas’s hotel business.
Manager at Simon’s coal yard, Happy Kellerman works with Augie to help Simon’s business succeed.
The Kinsmans are undertakers. Their son Joe Kinsman ran off with Howard Coblin to join the Marines and went to war in Nicaragua.
Eleanor Klein is the one unmarried daughter of the Kleins; she is too fat to get a husband and is kind to Augie. She goes to Mexico during the Depression to stay with a cousin who makes leather jackets. She hopes to marry him, but is disappointed.
Jimmy Klein is a boyhood friend of Augie’s; Grandma Lausch doesn’t approve of him. He is sociable and spirited, slight and dark-faced, witty-looking. Augie is welcome at Jimmy’s house and gets to know his whole family, who are all friendly and generous with gifts and money. Jimmy and Augie get into trouble for stealing money at Deever’s department store, where they work during the Christmas season. Years later, Jimmy catches Augie stealing books. He reveals that he has taken a rough path in life: he got a girl pregnant and had to marry her.
Mrs. Klein is Jimmy’s mother. She is overweight and can’t keep on her feet very long. Her hair is dyed black and hangs in braids, making her look like an Indian. She has eight children, including Gilbert and Velma, who are both divorced, and Tommy, who works at City Hall. There are always grandchildren in her home. When Mrs. Klein dies, her husband marries again to a longtime sweetheart.
Stashu Kopecs is a boy in the neighborhood whom Augie hangs out with. He is a thief, and teaches Augie to steal. Their friendship ends when Stashu and a gang of other kids beat Augie up.
Mr. and Mrs. Kreindl
Mr. and Mrs. Kreindl are Hungarian immigrants and neighbors of the Marches. Mr. Kreindl, a “powerful, stub-handed man with a large belly,” plays cards with Grandma Lausch and helps out the family. His wife, Mrs. Kreindl, is quiet and modest to the neighbors and violently quarrelsome at home.
Kotzie Kreindl is the Kreindls’ son, who becomes a dentist. His father thinks it strange that he doesn’t take an interest in girls.
Agnes Kuttner is a friend of Stella’s in New York and the mistress of Mintouchian, Agnes is kept in a grand, luxurious style. Yet, she is still so ruthless in her pursuit of money that she fakes a mugging in Central Park, choking herself unconscious, so that she can collect insurance money.
Grandma Lausch, although unrelated by blood to the Marches, is a surrogate grandmother to Augie and his brothers, and has a powerful influence on them both. She rules their childhood house with a strict, imperious, and shrewd manner. The widow of a powerful Odessa businessman, this grande dame claims to speak a variety of languages and passes the time reading Tolstoy. Her two sons are married and living in other states. When Grandma’s mind begins to fail, they commit the dignified old lady to a retirement home where she eventually dies of pneumonia.
A baldheaded man with gold glasses, Lubin is the caseworker assigned to work with the Marches through the government charities program.
Large, heavy Dutch people, the Magnuses are a solid family. They admire Simon very much and take him into their fold.
Uncle Charlie Magnus
Uncle Charlie Magnus is Lucy’s father. He gets Simon started in the coal business and pushes Lucy to break off her relationship with Augie.
Charlotte Magnus is Simon’s wife and heiress to a coal fortune. Simon marries her for the money, but grows to respect Charlotte, as she is a practical woman with a good head for business. She is also emotionally strong. When she learns of Simon’s infidelity, she deals with it swiftly and decisively. Charlotte is unable to have children.
A cousin of Simon’s wife Charlotte, Lucy becomes Augie’s steady girlfriend. A pretty, rich, shallow girl who likes to have fun, she doesn’t seem to have deep feelings for Augie. She breaks off the relationship when she hears that Augie has taken Mimi for an abortion.
Augie, the hero of the novel, is a Jewish-American boy coming of age in Depression-era Chicago. Since their father abandoned the family, Augie and his two brothers are raised by their slow-witted mother and surrogate “Grandma” Lausch. Augie, good-looking with “tall hair” and green-gray eyes, is a soft-hearted young man whose sympathy for others often gets him into trouble. He holds a variety of jobs throughout his life and learns from different people he encounters. People tend to “adopt” Augie and try to groom him into the person they want him to be, but he really wants to become his own person. The name Augie is short for “August,” which means “Great.” Augie has a desire for greatness, but he has no idea of how to do it, thinking it beyond his ability to “breathe the pointy, star-furnished air at its highest difficulty.” He goes along through life repeating the same mistakes. In the end, Augie realizes that his life has been a voyage of discovery. Whether or not he has been a success, he doesn’t know, but he will continue with unquenchable optimism and hope, “forever rising up.”
Georgie is Augie’s younger brother. He is mentally slow and is sent away to live in an institution at the insistence of Grandma Lausch. At the institution, he learns the trade of shoemaking.
Rebecca March, or “Mama”
Augie’s mother is “simple-minded,” gentle, and meek, with few teeth left. She allows herself to be ruled by Grandma Lausch and later, by her son Simon. After Mama goes blind, Simon sells her home to get money, and she ends up in a home. The one-time Mama stands up for herself is when she insists on bringing her white cane to Simon’s wedding, against the wishes of Simon, who appears ashamed of her disability. Later in her life, she lives in a luxurious bourgeois style, taken care of by Simon.
Simon is Augie’s older brother. Tall, good-looking, and blond, Simon has a self-assurance and sense of direction that Augie does not. He thinks Augie is too soft-hearted. After being jilted by his girlfriend Cissy Flexner, Simon marries the coal heiress Charlotte Magnus and becomes rich through multiple business ventures. Simon is very successful, but not content. Although he respects Charlotte for her business sense, his marriage lacks romantic love. His mistress, Renée, uses him for his money. Augie pities him because he cannot have children.
Harold Mintouchian is a wealthy, distinguished Armenian lawyer and international businessman who is the married lover of a friend of Stella’s and becomes a close friend and mentor of Augie. At the end of the novel, Augie works for him as a black market trader in Europe. Augie looks up to the older man as “a sage, prophet, or guru, a prince of experience with his jewel toes” and seeks his wisdom. Mintouchian, who has seen much of the darker side of human nature through his law practice, has more realistic ideas than the love-bitten Augie about what to expect from human relationships. Secrecy and lies, he tells Augie, are unavoidable. “Mind you, I’m a great admirer of our species. I stand in awe of the genius of the race. But a large part of this genius is devoted to lying and seeming what you are not.” He confesses to Augie that his mistress, Agnes, is keeping secrets from him, while he is keeping secrets from his wife.
Mintouchian’s invalid wife, Mrs. Mintouchian is aware of her husband’s infidelity and tells Augie of her husband: “He is great, despite being all too human.”
Wiley Moulton is an expat writer living in Acatla, Mexico.
Nosey Mutchnik is a gangster whom Einhorn swindles in a property deal, although Mutchnik never knows it. Mutchnik later swindles Simon out of two hundred dollars in a gambling pool and has Simon beat up when he protests.
Nails Nagel is a fighter promoted by Dingbat. He loses nearly all of his fights.
The daughter of a tailor, Hilda is Augie’s first crush as a schoolboy. He follows her around but never gets the courage to speak to her.
Lieutenant Nuzzo is an Italian-American cop whom Simon befriends as he begins to build his coal business.
Kayo Obermark is Mimi and Augie’s neighbor in the student boarding house. Kayo, an unkempt university student, is melancholy and brilliant. He shares with Augie his philosophy that “everyone has bitterness in his chosen thing.”
Oliver is Stella’s boyfriend in Mexico. A vain, jealous man, he keeps tight control of Stella. He is arrested for tax evasion.
Owens is an old Welshman who owns the student boarding house where Augie lives near the University of Chicago.
Padilla is a classmate of Augie’s. Born in the slums of Mexico, he is a genius of mathematical physics. He steals books for money and gets Augie involved in that, too.
Paslavitch is a friendly Yugoslavian and Communist sympathizer who lives in a neighborhood of Mexico City. Augie lives with him for a time after breaking up with Thea.
Five Properties is Anna Coblin’s brother. An immense, long-armed man with a gleeful, insincere smile, he drives a dairy truck and loves to boast that he has “Five prope’ties, plente money.” The money was earned by service during the war in Poland. His goal is to marry an American woman.
Renée is the young, beautiful, blond mistress of Simon. Simon spends his days with Renée, but goes home each night to Charlotte. Renée becomes angry and jealous because Simon never intends to leave his wife. When Charlotte finds out about the affair and demands a stop to it, Renée attempts suicide by swallowing pills (apparently an attention-getting gesture), and claims (falsely) that she is pregnant with Simon’s baby. She causes a scandal, opening a lawsuit against Simon. Charlotte and Simon have to go to court to fend her off.
Mr. and Mrs. Renling
The Renlings hire Augie to sell horse-riding gear at their sporting goods store in Evanston, Illinois. Mrs. Renling wishes to make Augie the perfect gentleman by giving him a distinguished wardrobe and sending him to college. Since the Renlings have no children of their own, they even offer to adopt Augie, but he declines.
A miserly millionaire with a stuttering problem, Robey is working on a book he calls The Needle’s Eye, an investigation into the nature and source of happiness. He hires Augie as a research assistant. As Augie listens to Robey discuss his book idea, he finds that the man makes sense only part of the time. He realizes that Robey is a “crank” who only wants someone to be an ear for his half-baked ideas.
Clarence Ruber is a friend of Augie’s from school who gives Augie a job selling paint.
Mrs. Ruber is Clarence Ruber’s cousin’s widow. She is in business with Clarence.
Molly Simms is a mulatto woman of about thirty-five, whom Simon hires to do their mother’s housework. Simon later sleeps with Molly and then fires her.
Smitty is Thea Fenchel’s millionaire ex-husband. She cheats on him with a Navy cadet, then goes to Mexico to get a divorce from him.
Mildred Stark is a crippled girl who goes to work for Einhorn after the stock-market crash and becomes his mistress. She is aged about thirty and heavy, but Einhorn is flattered that she is in love with him. Mildred dislikes Augie.
Willa Steiner is a waitress whom Augie briefly dates while living with the Renlings. Mrs. Renling does not approve, thinking Augie can do much better.
Stoney and Wolfy
Stoney and Wolfy are fellow travelers hitching free rides on the trains, whom Augie meets while traveling back to Chicago after Joe Gorman’s arrest. The police arrest all three thinking they are a gang of car thieves. Stoney is a young man on his way to veterinary school; Wolfy has a criminal record.
Owner of the Star Theatre, Sylvester hires young Augie to work for him by handing out bills. He later loses the theater and becomes an active member of the Communist party. Augie meets up with Sylvester in Mexico where he is working as a bodyguard for the exiled Leon Trotsky. Sylvester also comes to Augie’s wedding in New York.
Talavera is a handsome young Mexican whose father owns the taxi service in Acatla. He hangs around Augie and Thea. Augie later learns that he was a former lover of Thea’s.
Clementi “Clem” Tambow
Clem, the younger of Tambow’s two sons, and the cousin of Jimmy Klein, is a good friend to Augie. He is an easy spender and refuses to work, preferring to beg money off his father. When his father dies, he inherits his money. He has a crush on Mimi. Clem eventually goes to the University of Chicago, earning a degree in psychology, and invites Augie to join him in a counseling practice. Augie has a great deal of affection for Clem. Clem is the audience for Augie’s speech about “axial lines.”
The older of Tambow’s two sons, Donald is the handsome one. He has black curly hair like his mother. He goes into show business.
Tambow is Jimmy Klein’s uncle, a “big wheel” in Republican ward politics. Jimmy and Augie pass out campaign literature and do other odd jobs for him. Tambow is divorced and his own sons, Donald and Clem, refuse to work for him. He dies and leaves all his money to Clem and Donald.
The mother of Donald and Clem, Mrs. Tambow has remarried. She is handsome and dignified, with black curly hair and a pince nez. Clem teases her for being lecherous. He thinks his mother even lusts for Augie.
Mimi Villars is a beautiful, tough-talking blonde from Los Angeles who lives next door to Augie in the student boarding house and becomes a close friend of Augie. Mimi has bohemian ideas and aspires to marry an intellectual. When she becomes pregnant with an unwanted child by her boyfriend Frazer, Augie takes her to an abortionist. Mimi later falls in love with Arthur Einhorn. Mimi’s name recalls the tragic heroine of the Puccini opera La Bohème.
A cousin of the Magnuses, Weintraub spies Augie leaving the abortionist’s with Mimi. He tells the Magnuses, thus destroying Augie’s reputation with the family and causing his breakup with Lucy.
Dr. Wernick is a neighborhood dentist who fits Grandma Lausch with false teeth. She calls him a butcher because he treats his patients so roughly.