The Snow Was Black Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Georges Simenon

First published: La Neige etait sale, 1948 (English translation, 1950)

Genre: Novel

Locale: An unnamed Central European city

Plot: Psychological realism

Time: 1940–1945

Frank Friedmaier, an idler, robber, and killer. The son of a former prostitute (now a madam) and of an unknown father, Friedmaier is short and boyish. He is nineteen years old when the story begins. His outward lack of emotion, disconcerting to others and terrifying to his mother, conceals an intense desire to find a stable place in the chaos of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although he craves attention, he despises those who demonstrate affection for him. He bullies his mother, who fears him, even while he lives off of her earnings; he is contemptuous of the source of his money, of his mother's pliable morality, and of himself for taking advantage of both. He kills a woman who had befriended him in his childhood; he assaults Sissy Holst, who adores him; and he loathes the prostitutes who satisfy his physical needs. Imitating his wealthy and obviously criminal friend, Fred Kromer, Friedmaier decides on murder as a method of self-assertion. Even as he kills, he realizes that what he is really trying to do is attract the attention of his respectable neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, who is, for Friedmaier, a father figure. In prison, Friedmaier finally finds the structured life he craves. When Holst and Sissy visit him, the former treats him with paternal affection despite his abuse of Sissy, and Sissy, despite his cruel tests of her, asserts her lasting love. Now fulfilled, Friedmaier is ready to die; he confesses his two murders and is shot.

Lotte Friedmaier, Frank's mother, a former prostitute, now a madam. A blowsy, reddish-blonde, overweight woman with a youthful face, Lotte runs a manicure parlor on the third floor of a boardinghouse; it actually is a brothel. She hires young girls, trains them to wait on her, and fires them rapidly, to be replaced by new excitements for jaded appetites. Her job provides the luxuries that others lack during the German occupation. Well fed, warm, and amply clothed, Lotte and Frank are hated by most of their neighbors except for the Holsts.

Gerhardt Holst, a former art critic forced under the occupation to be a streetcar conductor. Despite his quiet, colorless appearance, Holst possesses unmistakable integrity. Although he is thin, weak, and prematurely aged from hunger and cold, he neither hates Lotte and Frank nor envies them their comforts, although he lives across the hall from them and can smell them cooking food. After Friedmaier and Kromer assault his daughter, Sissy, Holst gives up his job to do bookkeeping at home and to nurse his daughter. Aware of Sissy's love for Friedmaier, he takes the girl to visit Friedmaier in prison, where Holst admits that Friedmaier reminds him of his own lost son, who was first a thief and later a suicide.

Sissy Holst, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Gerhardt Holst. She adores Friedmaier despite his clear contempt for her efforts to attract him. She senses, or Friedmaier fears she does, the unhappiness he is unwilling to admit to anyone. As a result of her childish flirtatiousness, she is sexually assaulted by Kromer, with Friedmaier's help. After this attack, she falls seriously ill but does not renounce her love for Friedmaier. When she visits him in prison, she voices this love, with her father's consent.

Annie Loeb, an elegant prostitute. As lazy and insolent as Friedmaier himself is, Annie attracts him by the way she refuses to do Lotte's housework. She demands service and reads and smokes her days away. Unknown to Friedmaier, she is waiting for death. The daughter of a captured Resistance worker, she is serving as a prostitute to spy on German officers.

Fred Kromer, a twenty-two-year-old drug dealer, bull-like in his corrupt sensuality. Boasting a fur-lined coat and expensive cigars, Kromer is Friedmaier's pipeline to occupation forces. Kromer enjoys pursuing the young, hungry, miserable girls made vulnerable by the occupation and thus is attracted by Sissy and cooperates in Friedmaier's desire to contaminate her innocence.

The “Old Gentleman,” a professorial man in glasses who smokes constantly, carefully rolling his own cigarettes. Another father figure to Friedmaier, although he represents the occupying forces, he questions Friedmaier repeatedly in prison, moving him toward the confession and death that are precipitated by Holst and Sissy's visit.

Categories: Characters