The Enormous Room Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1922

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Autobiographical

Time of work: 1917

Locale: France

Characters DiscussedE. E. Cummings

E. Enormous Room, TheE. Cummings, an American ambulance driver. Arrested because of his close friendship with W. S. B. but never charged with any specific offense, he is imprisoned at La Ferte for three months. Naturally observant and interested in people, he sees in his fellow prisoners varied traits, ranging from humanity’s best to its most animalistic and depraved. Gifted with a satiric sense of humor, he endures the imprisonment without going insane, as do many of the unfortunates.

W. S. B.

W. S. B., also known as B., his American friend. He is arrested by French military police for writing letters suspected by the censor. He is transferred from La Ferte to another prison before cummings is released. W. S. B. is actually William Slater Brown.


Apollyon (ah-pohl-YOHN), head of the French prison, a gross, fiendish man who reminds cummings of Ichabod Crane and who questions him about why he is in prison, though cummings himself does not know. Apollyon is despised by the prisoners.


Rockyfeller, a livid, unpleasant-looking, impeccably dressed Rumanian who causes an uproar the night he arrives at La Ferte.

The Fighting Sheeney

The Fighting Sheeney, Rockyfeller’s revolting bully-boy, a former pimp.

Joseph Demestre

Joseph Demestre (deh-MEHSTR), called The Wanderer, a strong man of simple emotions whose wife (or possibly mistress) and three small children are in the women’s ward of the prison. Toward his six-year-old son, who sleeps with him, he shows deep love and understanding. Until sent away, he is cummings’s best friend.


Zoo-Loo, a Polish farmer who, ignorant of French and English, communicates by signs. He is a wizard at hiding money from the guards, and he is kind to cummings and B.


Surplice, a friendly, inquisitive little man who finds everything astonishing and whose talk makes even small things seem important and interesting.

Jean le Nègre

Jean le Nègre (zhahn leh nehgr), a gigantic, simple-minded black man given to practical jokes and tall tales. Arrested for impersonating an English officer, he becomes a favorite with the women prisoners. After a fight over Lulu’s handkerchief and the resultant punishment, Jean becomes quiet and shy. When B. is sent away, Jean attempts, with scant success, to cheer cummings with funny stories and whopping lies.

Count F. A. de Bragard

Count F. A. de Bragard, a Belgian painter of horses, a neat, suave gentleman with whom cummings discusses painting and the arts. Before cummings leaves, the count has withdrawn from the other prisoners, his mind finally breaking under the strain of the sordid prison life.


Lulu, Jean’s favorite among the women prisoners; she sends him money and a lace handkerchief.


Judas, a corpulent, blond, large-headed, mop-haired, weak-chinned prisoner who nauseates cummings.

M. le Gestionnaire

M. le Gestionnaire (gehs-tyohn-NAYR), a fat, stupid man with an enormous nose and a Germanic or Dutch face; he reminds cummings of a hippopotamus.

BibliographyCooperman, Stanley. World War I and the American Novel. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967. Calls The Enormous Room “a carnival in a graveyard” and shows how Cummings avoids conventional rebellion by manipulating language to depict the prison as adding foolishness to tragedy.Dougherty, James P. “E. E. Cummings: The Enormous Room.” In Landmarks of American Writing, edited by Hennig Cohen. New York: Basic Books, 1969. In The Enormous Room, Cummings’ intent was to expose the stupidity and cruelty of wartime governments. Victims are implicitly advised to undergo a process of “unlearning” previously accepted values.Gaull, Marilyn. “Language and Identity: A Study of E. E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room.” American Quarterly 19 (Winter, 1967): 645-662. Demonstrates that since insincerely idealistic language had betrayed realists, Cummings felt compelled to create new relationships between his use of language and its accurate expression of his experiences.Kennedy, Richard S. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994. An introductory critical biography that identifies factual bases of The Enormous Room, notes its three-part structure, and details its allusions and correspondences to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Defines the work’s antiwar and antiauthority themes and its comic-opera descriptions. Lauds Cummings’ preference for feeling, nature, children, and ignorance.Lineham, Thomas M. “Style and Individuality in E. E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room.” Style 13 (Winter, 1979): 45-59. Shows that, despite posturing, Cummings in The Enormous Room uses a versatile style to attack dangerous gentility, conservatism, and complacency and thus to inspire readers to assert their own world-transforming individuality.
Categories: Characters