Halina Bujak is a Catholic woman who has worked in Morris Selbst’s dry cleaning shop. When Woody is fourteen, Morris leaves his family to live with Halina, and Morris and Halina live as husband and wife for over forty years, although Halina remains married to someone else. Of all members of his extended family whom Woody sends to Disney World, Halina enjoys it most, particularly the Hall of Presidents.
The son of Halina, Morris Selbst’s longtime companion, Mitosh is only mentioned once in the story. He plays the organ at the Stadium for basketball and hockey games.
Helen is the mistress of Woody Selbst, his “wife de facto.” In his tight schedule, Woody schedules Friday nights for being with Helen.
Mrs. Skoglund’s housekeeper, Hjordis, is a tough, suspicious old maid, unwilling to accept the good in anyone, reluctant to allow Morris Selbst into the house, even in terrible weather. When leaving the Skoglund house, Woody requests that Hjordis phone the local YMCA, where her cousin works, to get a room for Morris and himself: she does so, but reluctantly, feeling that she is being taken advantage of by people she does not like.
Aunt Rebecca Kovner
Woody’s aunt, Rebecca Kovner, is the sister of his mother. She is married to the Reverend Doctor Kovner, and together they work to convert people to Christianity, including Woody, his mother, and his sisters. When he is at the seminary, Woody works under Aunt Rebecca at a soup kitchen shelter for the poor, and he pilfers food he does not need, just for spite.
Reverend Doctor Kovner
The brother-in-law of Woody’s mother, Reverend Doctor Kovner is actively involved in converting people to Christianity. He despises Morris Selbst, and the feeling is mutual. Morris accuses Kovner of converting Jewish women by making them fall in love with him.
Woody’s mother, who is never mentioned by name, is converted to Christianity by her sister, Aunt Rebecca Kovner, and her sister’s husband. She is a self-important woman whose stern piousness drives her husband, Morris, to leave her. During the next fifty years, up to the time of this story, she lives with her two daughters. Woody accuses his mother of spoiling her daughters, making them fat and crazy, and being out of touch with the real world.
See Morris Selbst
Morris Selbst Woody’s sister, Joanna Selbst, is depressed and mentally unstable.
Living on the streets of Liverpool, England, from the age of twelve, Morris Selbst comes to the United States at age sixteen, sneaking into the country by jumping a ship in Brooklyn; he never establishes an official identity in the country. He spends his life pursuing illegal and semi-legal means of support. In his forties, he leaves his wife and three children to live with one of his employees, Halina, with whom he remains for more than forty years until his death. Morris, or “Pop,” as Woody often refers to him, is a gambler, cheat, and thief, who feels entirely justified in being the way he is. When he comes to Woody and asks for his help on the behalf of his mistress, Halina, Woody suspects that his plea is bogus, as it in fact turns out to be. When Pop takes the silver dish, he promises to put it back if Mrs. Skoglund gives him the money he asks for; when she gives him the money, he steals the dish anyway and then lectures Woody about how religious people are really taking advantage of him and deserve what they get.
Woody’s sister, Paula Selbst, is cheerful but mentally unstable.
This story focuses on the life of Woody Selbst, who is now a sixty-year-old tile contractor in Chicago. Woody is the center of his extended family and the means of support for many people around him. He lives alone but has a girlfriend, Helen, whom he sees every Friday night. Every Friday he also shops for groceries for his wife, from whom he has been separated for fifteen years. He goes on Saturdays to visit his mother and his two sisters, who are in their fifties and still live at home with their mother. He has supplemented the income of his father, who has recently died, and his father’s mistress, Halina. Woody lives alone in an apartment atop his company’s warehouse. He travels internationally by himself once a year. He is generally law-abiding and dependable, but he also has a criminal streak: in the previous year, for instance, he smuggles hashish in from Kampala, just for the excitement of doing so (the hashish is used to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey). He does not like to keep entirely within the limits of the law, considering it a matter of self-respect to do otherwise.
When he is in his teens during the Great Depression, Woody, by birth a Jew, converts to Catholicism and attends a seminary, which is paid for by a benefactress, Mrs. Skoglund. He takes his father to Mrs. Skoglund’s house one day, and his father steals a silver dish from a curio cabinet; as a result of this theft, Woody is forced to leave school and go to work.
Mrs. Aase Skoglund
An old widow who has cooked for the wealthy Skoglund family and married their son, Aase Skoglund uses the money that she inherits to promote Christian charitable projects, such as paying Woody Selbst’s tuition at a seminary. She is deeply religious, praying to God when she has a decision to make. She is charitable enough to give money to Morris Selbst, a man of whom she disapproves. She accepts no excuses when she finds out that Woody and his father have stolen from her.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Saul Bellow, Published by Gale Group, 2010