Carlotta is the Patimkin’s maid. That the Patimkins have a maid is an indication of their wealth.
Harriet Ehrlich is the fiancee of Brenda’s brother Ron. Harriet arrives at the Patimkin household several days before the wedding. Neil describes her as ”a young lady singularly unconscious of a motive in others or herself. All was all surfaces, and she seemed a perfect match for Ron, and too for the Patimkins.”
Gladys is Neil’s aunt, and Neil lives at her house. She is indirectly critical of his relationship with Brenda, based on her awareness of the vast socioeconomic class differences between the families.
Doris Klugman is Neil’s cousin, who first invited him to the country club swimming pool where he met Brenda.
Neil Klugman is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Neil’s first-person narration tells the story of his relationship with Brenda from his own perspective. The story is one of self-discovery for Neil, as their relationship is characterized by their difference in socioeconomic status. Neil, who is twentythree, lives with his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max in Newark, New Jersey, and works at a library. He first meets Brenda at a country club swimming pool, to which his cousin Doris has invited him. He later calls Brenda and meets her at a tennis court. The next day, he is invited to dinner at her parents’ house. Brenda’s upper-middle-class suburban Jewish family is in stark contrast to the Neil’s lower-middle-class Jewish family. After several weeks of dating, Brenda invites Neil to stay a week at her parents’ house. While he is there, he and Brenda secretly spend the night together in her room. She invites him to stay another week, at the end of which she goes back to college for the fall. After several weeks without seeing one another, they arrange to spend a weekend together at a hotel, but, when they meet, Brenda tells him that her parents have discovered the diaphragm she had been using with him. As Brenda feels that, because of her parents’ reaction, they cannot continue their relationship, Neil leaves the hotel and heads back home and to his job.
The Little Boy
This is the little African-American boy, described by the outdated term “colored,” who daily visits the library to look at the book of Gauguin paintings of native women in Tahiti. He appears in Neil’s dream, as they both drift away from Tahiti on a ship. Neil identifies with the boy because they are both preoccupied with a fantasy of inhabiting a paradise which in reality they cannot reach—for the boy it’s Tahiti, for Neil it is the upper-middle-class world of Brenda’s family.
Max is Neil’s uncle, and Neil lives at his house. Uncle Max does not appear in the story, except as Neil and Neil’s aunt refer to him.
John McKee is Neil’s co-worker at the library, whom Neil doesn’t like. Neil also refers to him as John McRubberhands.
Ben Patimkin is Brenda Patimkin’s father. Described as “tall, strong and ungrammatical,” Mr. Patimkin is a wealthy businessman, who owns Patimkin Kitchen and Bathroom Sinks. Mr. Patimkin is a man of few words, and who spends his time with his family primarily in playing various sports in their yard. He comments that Neil “eats like a sparrow,” which Neil interprets as a slight against his masculinity. Toward the end of the story, Mr. Patimkin seems willing to accept Neil as a potential son-in-law, hinting that there would be room for him in the family business. After Brenda’s mother, Mrs. Patimkin, discovers Brenda’s diaphragm, Mr. Patimkin writes Brenda a letter, intended to soften the impact of her mother’s harsher letter. His primary response to the situation is to insist that he buy her a new coat, which reflects his ability to treat family matters mostly in terms of business and material possessions.
Brenda is Neil’s lover. Neil first meets Brenda at a country club swimming pool, where she asks him to hold her glasses while she dives into the pool. Neil later calls her, and she invites him to meet her at the tennis court. The next day, she invites him to dinner with her family, and, eventually, to spend two weeks at their house, during which the two secretly spend the night together. Neil’s relationship with Brenda is characterized by their socioeconomic class differences. Although they are both Jewish, everything about their family lives is in stark contrast. Brenda, like the rest of her family, is preoccupied with sports, competition, and athletics. She attends Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to which she returns at the end of the summer. She and Neil do not see each other again until they check into a hotel together for a weekend. When they arrive at the hotel room, however, Brenda tells him that her parents have discovered the diaphragm she had been using with Neil over the summer. Her mother and father have written her separate letters, expressing their dismay at this discovery. She makes it clear to Neil that, due to her family’s disapproval, she cannot continue their relationship.
Julie Patimkin is Brenda’s little sister. Described as “ten, round-faced, bright,” Julie is as preoccupied with sports and competition as the rest of the Patimkin family. After Neil insists on beating her at a game of ping pong one day when he is left to baby sit her, Julie becomes upset and cools toward him from then on.
Leo Patimkin is Mr. Patimkin’s half-brother, whom Neil meets at the wedding. Leo Patimkin gets drunk and talks extensively to Neil about his family and financial circumstances.
Mrs. Patimkin is Brenda’s mother. Neil describes her in the following way: “with her purple eyes, her dark hair, and large, persuasive frame, she gave me the feeling of some captive beauty, some wild princess, who has been tamed and made the servant to the king’s daughter—who was Brenda.” Mrs. Patimkin is cold toward Brenda, her own daughter, and clearly skeptical of Neil, based on his humble class origins. When, toward the end of the story, Mrs. Patimkin finds Brenda’s diaphragm under a pile of sweaters in a drawer, she writes a distraught letter, which she sends via air mail to Brenda at college. It is primarily Mrs. Patimkin’s response to the situation which seems to influence Brenda to end the relationship with Neil.
Ron Patimkin is Brenda’s brother. Ron was an athlete at Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio, and shares the Patimkin family preoccupation with sports, competition, and athletic activities. He marries Harriet in a big wedding, which Neil attends. Ron invites Neil to listen to his “Columbus” record, which is a sort of college yearbook narrated through such events as the last basketball game of the season, in which Ron played. The record ends with the singing of “Goodbye, Columbus . . .,” a nostalgic farewell to college life for graduating seniors. It is this line from which the story takes its title, and which expresses Neil’s eventual sense of nostalgia for his brief relationship with Brenda.
Mr. Scapello is Neil’s boss at the library. He gives Neil a promotion, with the implication that Neil can expect to work his way up the library hierarchy, should he continue his job there.
Laura Simpson Stolowitch
Laura Stolowitch is Brenda’s friend, with whom Brenda plays tennis the first time she and Neil arrange to meet. Brenda calls her “Simp.”
Susan is Neil’s cousin, the daughter of his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max, with whom Neil lives.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Philip Roth, Published by Gale Group, 2001.