Because of its mass and its scope, the novel has a predictably large cast of characters. These can be broken down into three classes: historical victims; historical oppressors, by far the largest group; and personifications of public attributes.
Because one purpose of The Public Burning is to treat that moment in history at which the attitudes of America solidified into an unquestioning monism, Coover treats many historical figures as having mythic proportions.
President Eisenhower's famous obscurantist rhetoric is effectively parodied and the General's insensitivity to the human issues the Rosenberg case raises is satirized. Senator Joseph McCarthy's notorious belligerence toward anything red is effectively evoked, as is Senator Robert Taft's statesmanship; the novel significantly treats Taft's terminal cancer as symbolic of a dying political order.
Most spectacularly, however, half of the novel is narrated by then-Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon.
Although this is not the only literary treatment...