Bonfire of the Vanities: Character Profiles
A young African-American crack dealer from the Bronx, Roland Auburn is with Henry Lamb on the night of the hit-and-run accident. Auburn testifies against McCoy in exchange for being let off on a drug indictment. He tells a false version of the events in the Bronx, claiming to have been an innocent bystander as Henry was cruelly run down.
Reverend Reginald Bacon
Reverend Reginald Bacon is a corrupt, cynically self-promoting black social justice leader who organizes public protests and sets in motion the media frenzy surrounding the case of Henry Lamb. Bacon’s motive is to profit by helping Lamb’s mother sue Sherman McCoy and the hospital in the civil courts. Bacon claims to be a crusader against racism, but he actually benefits greatly by fanning the flames of racial hatred. Bacon owns and controls a variety of so-called non-profits with positive-sounding names, such as the All People’s Solidarity, the Open Gates Employment Coalition, and the Third World Anti-Defamation League. All of these organizations are really just arms of his far-reaching political power. Bacon is adept at working the system in order to get rich, and his name is a reference to all the “pork-barrel” money he extorts from those in power.
Inez and Leon Bavardage are wealthy socialites who invite Sherman and Judy to a fancy dinner party at their Park Avenue home. Sherman is snubbed at the party, which is filled with snobbish members of New York high society.
Bishop Bottomley is an African-American Episcopal Bishop in Manhattan. He comes to the Mayor for a favor, but when he doesn’t do the Mayor a favor in return, the Mayor makes sure he doesn’t get what he wants.
Pollard Browning is a sleek, fat, snobbish lawyer who serves as president of the co-op board for Sherman’s apartment building on Park Avenue. Browning tries to force Sherman out of the building when his case becomes a media circus.
Lord Buffing is an English poet at the Bavardages’ dinner party who is dying of AIDS. Buffing mortifies the dinner guests by giving a sobering speech on Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.”
Freddy Button is Sherman McCoy’s lawyer, an elegant, chain-smoking homosexual at Dunning Sponget & Leach who represents the genteel, suave type of lawyer suitable for the needs of a Park Avenue aristocrat. When Sherman comes to him for help, Freddy refers him to Tommy Killian, who he says is better able to handle criminal cases.
Ray Andriutti and Jimmy Caughey
Along with Larry Kramer, Ray Andriutti and Jimmy Caughey are assistant district attorneys in the homicide division. They represent the “animal-like” Italian and Irish tough-guy types Kramer both despises and envies.
Filippo Chirazzi is an Italian painter living in New York, and a lover of Maria’s. Filippo and Maria run off to Italy together after Sherman’s case goes public, and later marry.
The di Duccis
Kate and Silvio di Ducci are socialite friends of the McCoys, and Judy McCoy decorated their apartment. Theirs is the first party the McCoys attend after Sherman’s arrest. To Sherman’s surprise, he and Judy are welcomed and celebrated at the di Duccis’ party. All the socialites cluster around, wanting to hear the juicy details of his arrest.
A 36-year-old British reporter for the City Light tabloid, Peter Fallow is perpetually hung over and on the verge of being fired until Al Vogel uses him to break the case about Henry Lamb. Fallow lives by sponging off others, particularly the rich Americans he secretly despises. He has few scruples and is willing to distort the truth in order to create a sensational story, as when he creates the lie that Henry Lamb was an “honor student.” Ironically, the bottom-feeding Fallow wins a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the McCoy case and ends up marrying a rich heiress.
Edward Fiske III
A young, Yale-educated white man, Edward Fiske works for the Episcopal Diocese of New York as the Community Outreach Director. Naïve and foolishly proud of his Harlem connections, Fiske is shocked to find that the $350,000 the diocese invested in a day-care center has been embezzled by Reverend Bacon. Fiske is the gullible “fish” (Fiske/fish) taken in by the British expat crowd at Leicester’s Pub. They pretend to enjoy his stories and then slip away, leaving him with the hefty bill.
Bernie Fitzgibbon is chief of the homicide bureau of the Bronx district attorney’s office. He trades favors with his Irish colleagues, Killian included. When Weiss tries to have Sherman McCoy arrested at his home on Park Avenue, Fitzgibbon refuses out of loyalty to Killian.
Caroline Heftshank is one of the British expats who drink at Leicester’s with Peter Fallow. Heftshank gives Fallow the information that Maria Ruskin was the lady in the car with Sherman McCoy.
Herbert 92X is a small-time criminal who is put on trial for the accidental shooting death of an innocent bystander in a gang confrontation. Herbert 92X styles himself as a radical Black Muslim (in the style of Malcolm X) and insists on reciting from the Koran in the courtroom. Kramer acts as prosecuting attorney, and wins the case, although the verdict is later overturned.
Tommy Killian is a slick, street-smart Irish lawyer at the law firm of Dershkin, Bellavita, Fishbein & Schlossel who defends Sherman McCoy.
Judge Mike Kovitsky
Judge Mike Kovitsky is a stern Jewish judge who refuses to allow public opinion to rule his court. He is a hero of the novel, a warrior administering justice in the Bronx. However, he ends up losing his job over his refusal to back down.
Lawrence “Larry” Kramer
Assistant D.A. in the Bronx, 32-year-old Larry Kramer is the prosecutor on the McCoy case, which he hopes will advance his legal career. Kramer is awed by power and shamelessly kisses up to his boss, Abe Weiss. He prides himself on his muscular build and is constantly posturing to impress women. At first seeming to be a rather innocuous character, Kramer becomes increasingly power hungry. In the end of the novel, he shamelessly bends the truth and elicits false testimony from his witnesses in order to win his case against Sherman McCoy. Judge Kovitsky throws his case out of court.
Rhoda Kramer is Larry’s wife and mother of their baby son Joshua. Larry loves her, but is turned off by her puffiness after giving birth and by her strong New York Jewish accent.
Henry’s mother, Annie Lamb is portrayed as an honest, bright, hardworking woman who only wants justice for her son, but is used by Reverend Bacon.
Henry Lamb is an African-American boy from the South Bronx who is struck and fatally injured by Sherman McCoy’s car. He suffers a concussion and brain hemorrhage, slips into a coma, and eventually dies. Universally described as a good, quiet boy, Henry Lamb is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the book, a “sacrificial Lamb” who died a victim of the ills of his society. Reverend Bacon uses the story of Henry Lamb as an example of racism in the justice system, and incites protests and rioting on behalf of the unfortunate boy. Bacon’s ultimate goal, however, is to win money by helping Lamb’s mother sue McCoy in a civil court case.
Gene Lopwitz is Sherman McCoy’s boss at Pierce & Pierce. He is a Jewish American, but tries to affect the air of an English aristocrat by installing a working fireplace and Chippendale furniture in his Wall Street office. Lopwitz loves Sherman as long as he is performing as the top bond salesman, but is all too ready to cut Sherman loose once he is in trouble.
Martin and Goldberg
Martin and Goldberg are Tough Bronx police detectives, one Irish and one Jewish, who work on the McCoy case. They visit McCoy’s apartment and question him about the hit-and-run accident, and later arrest him and bring him to the courthouse. Ironically, McCoy comes to see them as his protectors when they successfully navigate him through an angry mob.
The Mayor of New York
In the Prologue to the novel, the mayor of New York, a white Jewish man, is shouted down by an angry mob when he holds a town meeting in Harlem. Later he is seen appeasing the black community by giving out many special awards and plaques.
Campbell McCoy is Sherman and Judy’s six-year-old daughter. She is portrayed as an innocent young girl who will soon lose her innocence as her father is involved in a scandal.
Celeste McCoy is Sherman’s beautiful, aristocratic-looking 65-year-old mother.
John Campbell McCoy, the “Lion of Dunning Sponget”
John Campbell McCoy is Sherman’s father, a prominent New York lawyer who once led the firm of Dunning Sponget & Leach. A contrast between father and son illustrates the generation gap between Americans growing up in the Depression and the “Me” generation of baby boomers. McCoy Senior is from an older, more austere generation, but his moral lessons on thrift and modesty have not taken root in his son. While the Lion takes the subway to work every day, Sherman blows $10 on a taxi downtown. The Lion was content with a modest home; Sherman takes out a $1.8 million loan to live on Park Avenue. Despite their differences, Sherman looks up to his father as an aristocrat, a lion. He sees the weakness and vulnerability in the aging lion when he tells his father about his arrest.
Judy McCoy is Sherman’s forty-year-old wife, an interior designer. Originally from Wisconsin, Judy is gradually becoming more like the Park Avenue socialites whose homes she decorates. Sherman still loves her, but resents the way she spends his money and thinks she is getting too old for him. Judy and Sherman eventually separate after the scandal, but he continues to try to win her back.
The protagonist of the story, Sherman McCoy is a 38-year-old hotshot bond dealer at the firm of Pierce & Pierce in New York City. McCoy seems to have it all: a luxury apartment on Park Avenue, an aristocratic pedigree, a perfect family, and a gorgeous mistress on the side. Pulling in $50,000 in one day on the trading floor, he considers himself a “Master of the Universe.” Ironically, though, his expensive lifestyle, which includes a luxury apartment on Park Avenue, is causing him to go broke on his million-dollar-a-year salary. When he is charged with the crime of hit-and-run and becomes a pawn at the center of a political battle, everything is taken from him: family, job, status, and money. Finally, Sherman McCoy is left with nothing—proving that the higher you live, the further you fall.
Moody is a lawyer for the Episcopal Diocese and goes with Fiske to Harlem to help recover the $350,000 embezzled by Reverend Bacon. Fiske thinks Moody is vulgar.
Ed Quigley is an investigator working with Tommy Killian on Sherman McCoy’s case. He locates the tape the landlord made of Maria Ruskin.
Sally Rawthrote is one of the “social X-rays” at the Bavardages’ party. She snubs Sherman at the party, but calls in the midst of his legal battles to offer her services as realtor to help sell his apartment. Sherman finds it disgusting that she would seek to profit from his misfortune.
Arthur Ruskin is the seventy-one-year old financier husband of Maria Ruskin. Arthur is Jewish, but he makes his money by flying rich Muslims to the holy site at Mecca.
Maria Ruskin is Sherman McCoy’s sexy, brunette twenty-something mistress. Maria, a working-class Southern belle from North Carolina, is the trophy wife of ultra-rich Jewish tycoon Arthur Ruskin. Maria is driving the car when Henry Lamb is struck, but gives false testimony in court that leads to Sherman being convicted of the crime. Maria eventually marries her Italian lover Filippo Chirazzi.
Bobby Shaflett is a fat, blond, vulgar opera singer from the Appalachians who has become a darling of high society. He is known for his golden voice, but Sherman thinks of him as “the Golden Hillbilly.”
Sir Gerald Steiner
Sir Gerald Steiner is a British financier and publisher of The City Light. He has a house on Park Avenue, but is never fully accepted into high society because he is Jewish. Peter Fallow mocks him behind his back by calling him “the Dead Mouse.” By the end of the novel, however, Fallow and Steiner are best pals because of Fallow’s work on the McCoy case. In the Epilogue, it is disclosed that Fallow marries Steiner’s daughter.
Shelly Thomas is a juror in the trial of Herbert 92X. Kramer, the prosecutor in the case, first notices Shelly as “the girl with the brown lipstick” and lusts after her. After the trial, they begin an affair.
Rawlie Thorpe is a fellow trader at Pierce & Pierce, he is cynical about the whole Wall Street game when Sherman is in earnest about it. After Sherman’s fall from grace, Rawlie turns out to be his only friend.
Albert Vogel is the lawyer representing Henry Lamb and his mother. Vogel and Reverend Bacon hope to profit greatly by suing McCoy and the hospital for negligence, and a media frenzy suits their purposes. Vogel feeds stories about the Lamb case to Peter Fallow of The City Light.
Nunnally Voyd is a novelist who attends the Bavardages’ and di Duccis’ high society parties. Sherman notes that he is either gay or bisexual. His name (“none void”) suggests that he has nothing of value to say (perhaps a jab at some of Wolfe’s contemporaries).
Richard A. “Abe” Weiss
District Attorney of Bronx County, Abe Weiss never enters the courtroom because he is too busy courting the media. When publicity-mad Weiss, who is Jewish, is accused of racism for not investigating the Henry Lamb case, he goes on a full-out hunt for the Great White Defendant. His priority is winning the next election, not making sure that justice is done. Weiss’s nickname, which recalls that of “Honest Abe” Lincoln, is highly ironic.
Bonfire of the Vanities Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Bonfire of the Vanities
- Prologue and Chapters 1-2
- Chapters 3-4
- Chapters 5-6
- Chapters 7-9
- Chapters 10-11
- Chapters 12-13
- Chapters 14-15
- Chapters 18-19
- Chapters 16-17
- Chapters 20-21
- Chapters 22-23
- Chapters 24-25
- Chapters 26-27
- Chapters 28-29
- Chapters30-31 and Epilogue
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Tom Wolfe
- Essay Q&A