This section contains 4,767 words
(approx. 12 pages at 400 words per page)
Without Feathers Summary & Study Guide Description
Without Feathers Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
Woody Allenappears in Selections from the Allen Notebook, God, and The Early Essay
In "Selections," Allen is little more than a parody of himself, a humorous performance of Woody Allen, as he is perceived by the public: as an absurd, hyperaware, worrying comedian. The idea that Allen is presented here as the private self is ironic considering that, clearly, this work is based on the impression he's given the world.
The character of Woody in "God," existing as nothing more than a largely indifferent disembodied voice, represents a deist conception of divinity. Like the deist God, Woody is content to not interfere with his now living and breathing creation. Instead, he tells Diabetes to let him know how the play turns out. This cosmology suggests that God created the created the Earth and, having turned it over to mankind, washed his hands of it entirely.
In "The Early Essays," Woody Allen isn't himself so much as he is a name. Allen is parodying the essays of venerated authors who are as much recognized for their famous names, as they are for the wisdom that they impart. Here again, as he does elsewhere in the Without Feathers, Allen drives a wedge between discourse and content, denying the compulsory credibility that comes with mere name recognition.
Dr. Osgood Mulford Twelgeappears in Examining Psychic Phenomena
Twelge, a paranormal investigator, is the author of a soon-to-be-released book entitled Boo! Twelge, with three names and the title "Dr.," as well as the title of professor of ectoplasm at Colombia University, is presented as an authority and acts as the narrator of excerpts of his own book. Twelge's accuracy and intelligence are taken for granted because of his position and title, something that Allen purposefully makes fun of in his presentation.
Twelge is not a character, precisely, but instead a fictional author of a book on parapsychology. When excerpts of Twelge's book are presented, his presence behind the words of the work is clearly felt, and this shows how the writer presenting supposed facts creates reality through the presentation. Because the stories Twelge tells are ludicrous, his haughty title and position also, ultimately, are ludicrous.
Sir Arthur Nurneyappears in Examining Psychic Phenomena
As chronicled in one of Dr. Osgood Mulford Twelge's case histories, Nurney's life is changed when he unexpectedly and spontaneously teleported from his bathtub to the string section of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
J.C. Dubbsappears in Examining Psychic Phenomena
J.C. Dubbs, a man from one of Dr. Osgood Mulford Twelge's case files, saw the ghost of a brother who had died fourteen years previously.
Albert Sykesappears in Examining Psychic Phenomena
Another subject of Dr. Osgood Mulford Twelge, Albert Sykes reports that he's experienced several instances of his spirit leaving his body.
Leonidappears in A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets
In the ballet Dimitri, the young man Leonid falls for Natasha, who in turn falls in love with a puppet. Leonid attempts to murder the puppet, but fails on account of the puppet not being alive.
Natashaappears in A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets
In the ballet Dimitri, Natasha is the young woman who spurns Leonid's affections. Instead she falls in love with a puppet named Dmitri.
Yvetteappears in A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets
Yvette is a character in a ballet called The Spell. She is cursed by the magician Von Epps to exist as half human, half swan. She kills herself by running into a brick wall.
Von Eppsappears in A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets
In the ballet The Spell, Von Epps curses Yvette to be half human and half swan.
Prince Sigmundappears in A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets
Prince Sigmund is a character in a ballet who falls in love with Yvette, a woman who is cursed by the magician Von Epps to exist as half human, half swan. Sigmund, however, is engaged to someone named Justine. He first agrees to save Yvette, then decides to marry Justine, and finally leaves her when Yvette is found.
Justineappears in A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets
In the ballet The Spell, Justine is Prince Sigmund's fiancé.
Godappears in The Scrolls
In "The Scrolls," God behaves less like a divine creator and more like a drunken fraternity brother. This Biblical parody pokes fun at all of the characters of the Bible, especially the divine God. God mistreats Job merely to win a bet with Satan, and he refuses to admit to Job that he's doing anything but completing a mysterious divine plan. When Job finally calls him to task, God simply pleads that might makes right.
God also pranks Abraham into almost killing his son, and then he says that Abraham does not have a sense of humor and will follow any instructions given to him in a resonant voice. This depiction of God has more characteristics of an ordinary, fallible human (or even a particularly ignorant, annoying human) than of a divine creator, making him akin to the Greek and Roman portrayals of gods who were jealous, lustful, and arbitrary.
Jobappears in The Scrolls
Job is tormented by God for reasons unknown to him, prompting Job to dare question God's judgment. By doing this, Job breaks out of the (miserable) life designated for him by God in order to exert free will. Rather than address Job's concerns, God instead dismisses Job as a foolish mortal, suggesting that Job couldn't possibly understand the will of God. The truth is that the will of God is irrational, just as it appears.
Job represents the common man who, having allowed himself to be defined by God's plan, is nevertheless subjected to pain and suffering. His reward for following God's directions is basically torture. Job's story harkens back to the ageless question: If God is both good and omnipotent, then why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?
Abrahamappears in The Scrolls
Abraham is a dutiful follower of God who goes to kill his son, because God tells him to. God accuses Abraham of having no sense of humor for not realizing the command was a joke.
Isaacappears in The Scrolls
Isaac is the son of Abraham, who God, as a practical joke on Abraham, demands as a sacrifice.
Sarahappears in The Scrolls
Sarah is the Biblical mother to Isaac and wife of Abraham. She questions Abraham's assertion that God told him to sacrifice Isaac.
Jorgen Lovborgappears in Lovborg's Women Considered
Jorgen Lovborg is a neurotic playwright who, although he began writing at age fourteen, saw his first play produced at age sixty-one. His depiction of women is supposedly influenced by his own heartbreaking relationships with the opposite sex. The character based on his wife of eight years depicts a woman who is both abusive and emasculating. The theatrical proxy of Lovborg's mother meanwhile, Mrs. Sanstad, is cold and manipulative. If the parallels are true, this makes Loveborg analogous to Dorf and Henrick, the male characters in his play who are abused by the female characters.
Berteappears in Lovborg's Women Considered
In Lovborg's "Mellow Pears," Henrick is the son of Mrs. Sanstad and lover to Berte. He doesn't appear in the provided excerpt, but his mother depicts him as foolish and neurotic. This character is likely a parallel for Lovborg himself.
Mrs. Sanstadappears in Lovberg's Women Considered
In Lovborg's "Mellow Pears," Mrs. Sanstad is the manipulative mother of Henrick. She manipulates Henrick's lover into comitting suicide. She is thought to be based on Lovberg's own mother.
Dorfappears in Lovborg's Women Considered
Dorf is a character in Lovborg's "While We Three Hemorrhage." Driven by wife Netta, Dorf hopes to claim for himself the disease inherited by his brother. Dorf likely represents Lovborg himself.
Nettaappears in Lovborg's Women Considered
Netta is a character in Lovborg's "While We Three Hemorrhage." Netta is Dorf's abusive wife. She pushes Dorf to claim for himself the disease inherited by his brother. Netta is based on Lovborg's wife of eight years.
Kaiser Lupowitzappears in The Whore of Mensa
Kaiser Lupowitz is a private detective in the style of Sam Spade. The story is a parody of noir detective fiction, and Kaiser is the penultimate noir detective. He is immune to the seductions (albeit intellectual) that ruin the men around him, and he is quick to follow leads into the underworld.
Kaiser is hired by Word Babock to bust a blackmailing madam. Kaiser is observant and clever, with an edge of street wisdom that allows him to infiltrate the intellectual whorehouse. His (correct) assumption that the brainy call girls are little more than trained pseudo-intellectuals shows that he is a skeptic by nature, always looking for the con.
Kaiser's many ruminations throughout the story, meanwhile, show him as a thoughtful man capable of stepping back to see, and appreciate, the big picture. These ruminations are part of the noir detective genre, what would become a voice over in film. Finally, Kaiser's willingness to con Sherry by pretending to be a police officer demonstrates that Kaiser is goal-oriented, more concerned with the end rather than the means by which it is achieved. His goal is always to solve the case, and no female attractions will distract him from that goal.
Word Babockappears in The Whore of Mensa
A joy buzzer manufacturer and closet intellectual, Word hires detective Kaiser Lupowitz to assist him with blackmailer madame Flossie, who has threatened to reveal to Word's wife that he has been paying young women to discuss literature with him.
Flossieappears in The Whore of Mensa
Flossie is the madame attempting to blackmail Word for ten thousand dollars. At the end of the story, Kaiser discovers that Flossie is a surgically altered transvestite with the body of a man but the voice of a woman.
Sherryappears in The Whore of Mensa
Sherry is a young college student who discusses literature with men in exchange for money.
Kleinmanappears in Death
Kleinman is pulled from his bed and conscripted by vigilantes to join in the hunt of a neighborhood killer. From German, the name Kleinman translates to mean "small one." Kleinman is the little guy, the average Joe. He hasn't heard of the neighborhood slayings because his world, too, is small. Kleinman's first concern, unsurprisingly, is with his job, his health, and his continued safety; he's no hero. Kleinman is reluctant to trade his warm bed for the cold city streets. He is afraid to be alone and afraid that he might actually find the killer he's supposedly looking for. In short, Kleinman behaves as any sane, ordinary man might behave if he were suddenly plunged into irrational circumstances.
While perhaps not brave, Kleinman is a rational force. He inquires about the killer's methods. He asks for more information about Hacker's plan. He wants to know what others expect him to do. Even as he is threatened by the killer himself, Kleinman's first instinct is to reason with the maniac. Throughout the play, however, Kleinman's many questions go unanswered or ignored, and his ideas are dismissed. Other characters see Kleinman's rational mind as a flaw, something deserving of scorn. This creates an atmosphere of inverted reason, where the illogical replaces common sense.
Intelligent or not, Kleinman puts his trust in an unknowable plan over and above his own reason. While his refusal to take the doctor's tragically poor advice shows that Kleinman is capable of independent thought and action, he nevertheless fails to give up on Hacker's plan. Kleinman has, for whatever reason, substituted his own rational self-interest for the interests of a complete unknown.
Hackerappears in Death
While only briefly seen in the play, Hacker's presence is felt throughout. As the man with the plan, Hacker is the fulcrum for the entire story. However, since no one else can know the entirely of the plan, Hacker can't be held accountable for whether or not it works. This is doubly true once he's dead.
When Hacker orders Kleinman to join the vigilantes, he speaks as a man who expects obedience, as if contradiction were unthinkable. Kleinman isn't permitted to refuse, or to question. Hacker gives his orders, and moves on, secure in the certainty that Kleinman will comply. The fact that Hacker never leaves any instructions for Kleinman, however, raises serious doubts as to the wisdom of his leadership.
Once dead, Hacker represents the inaccessible God who, having created the context in which everyone operates, isn't available to answer questions about that context. The many splinter factions which arise from his death represent the many facets of religion, each one a separate sliver of Hacker's now shattered plan, each sliver perhaps confusing itself with the whole.
Maniac (a.k.a. Killer, Murderer, Strangler)appears in Death
The maniac is the person responsible for the string of murders throughout the city. He doesn't kill out of desire, nor does he enjoy killing. The maniac kills simply, because he is the killer. He must kill. This sort of circular logic, coupled here as it is with violence, defines a triumph of the irrational.
The killer is a central character of the play in that all of the characters spend their time searching for him and trying to understand him. However, there's nothing further to understand about the killer. He's simply insane. This makes the maniac a non-person. He, like a character in a play, can't choose to be anything other than what he is.
Doctorappears in Death
A member of the vigilante squad, the doctor wants to find the killer and dissect him for the sake of science. The doctor represents science and its desire to understand everything unknown, since the doctor hopes to understand the killer and his reasoning. By breaking apart people into pieces, like a machine, the doctor thinks he can understand them. This marks the doctor not only as a fool but possibly also as criminally insane. He cannot see that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The most dangerous thing about the doctor is his veneer of credibility. As a man of science, he is assumed wise and rational, when in truth he is no less irrational than any of the other vigilantes. Simply because of the title "doctor," the doctor is assumed to have authority based on superior knowledge and abilities. The falsity of this is particularly evident when the doctor tries to lead Kleinman into the dead end where he himself is killed.
Manappears in Death
An unnamed man answers Kleinman's cries for help as the doctor is dying. The same unnamed character of "Man" later demands, at knife point, that Kleinman pick a side in the growing civil war. Man represents the sometimes irrational public. While Man is reasonably amiable under normal circumstances, he is prone to blind emotionalism when placed under duress. He is, in essence, a one-man mob.
Hans Spiroappears in Death
Hans Spiro is a quasi-religious psychic who divines truth by way of smell. He nearly has Kleinman lynched on the strength of his word alone when, after smelling Kleinman up and down, he accuses Kleinman of being the killer. Hans represents an arbitrary religious authority whom people believe as a matter of faith.
Ginaappears in Death
Gina is the young prostitute (and fellow vigilante) that Kleinman literally runs into while wandering the city at night. She seems intelligent and thoughtful, but also somewhat mercenary when she charges Kleinman six dollars for the kiss. Later, when Kleinman is accused of being the killer, Gina spontaneously testifies against him.
Inspector Fordappears in Match Wits with Inspector Ford
A parody of Ellery Queen and other similar mystery detectives, Inspector Ford is a whodunit detective. As a parody, however, Inspector Ford lacks the intelligence and deductive ability that most fictional detectives supposedly have. Like many characters in Allen's writings, the inspector represents a kind of authority. Because he has a title, "Inspector," and a position that implies brains and capability, the reader assumes Inspector Ford has these qualities. The reader is quickly disillusioned.
Practically speaking, Inspector Ford's detective work is poor. His interrogation techniques are bizarre, and his conclusions are unfathomable. Woody Allen uses his patent silliness to make ridiculous leaps of logic in Ford's conclusions. Although Ford tends to make many "keen" observations at a crime scene, most are implausible or completely irrelevant. When the solution is revealed, it has nothing to do with the setup, and in one case, the "solution" proves that Ford's accusation was incorrect.
While Inspector Ford is the focus of the story, he isn't so much a character as he is a parody of an archetype. The parody shows the reader the author's significant role in the drama. Inspector Ford can have no intelligence that isn't given to him by the author, and only the author can note what is "intelligent" and what isn't. In this case, intelligence is merely absurdity.
Kermit Krollappears in Match Wits with Inspector Ford
Supposedly kidnapped, Kroll returns home after paying a large ransom. Detective Ford determines that Kermit colluded with his captors to con his parents out of money.
Ivesappears in Match Wits with Inspector Ford
Ives is Mr. Wheel's manservant. Inspector Ford determines that Ives murdered Mr. Wheel.
Sean O'Shawnappears in The Irish Genius
O'Shawn is a fictional Irish poet whose work is considered difficult to grasp. The sample of his work that the reader sees, a short poem, is so obscure and disconnected as to be ridiculous. In fact, the poem itself is a parody of poetry that uses obscure references and difficult to understand language. Allen's parody implies that O'Shawn's work isn't merely difficult but more probably absurd and meaningless. O'Shawn may be specifically a parody of James Joyce, who wrote the very difficult book Ulysses, but many examples exist of obscure poetry.
In the story "The Irish Genius," a critic tries to put O'Shawn's work in context by providing a litany of trivia about the poet. Each line is examined for connections to the poet's life and experiences. Instead of revealing meaning, the unnamed critic succeeds only in demonstrating that O'Shawn himself is just as difficult to grasp as his poetry. Based on the bizarre collection of anecdotes and trivia surrounding the poet, the reader must conclude that O'Shawn is neurotic, erratic and likely to blow chickpeas through a straw at those who offend him. Both O'Shawn and his work seem unknowable.
Hepaitis (a.k.a. Writer)appears in God
Hepatitis is desperate to win the Athenian Drama Festival, but he can't think of a satisfying way to end his play. His ambitions are at odds with his principles. While Hepatitis wants to entertain the audience and win the contest, he also wants to preserve the sanctity of his characters by not forcing them to behave in a manner that is contrary to their nature. Unfortunately, he can't think of a plausible ending that will satisfy both requirements.
When Trichinosis first suggests the possible ending in which Zeus saves the day, Hepatitis doesn't like the idea. Divine intervention, he feels, only serves to cheapen the role of humanity. Once Hepatitis sees the impressive deus ex machina in action, however, he is overcome with awe. The only thing he can think of his how impressed the judges will be by such a device. Hepatitis agrees to use the deus ex machina and immediately rewrites his play. When the play is finally performed, the protagonist is railroaded through the story in a manner that is contrary to his nature.
Hepatitis represents the complacency of great men. He knows right from wrong, and as a writer, Hepatitis has himself the powers of a God. Nevertheless, he willingly chooses to compromise his art for personal gain. As a result, his characters (and the actors who play them) are made to suffer. This is also akin to the idea of an imperfect god; the god who recognizes the existence of evil, but who is himself subject to it. Hepatitis's name, of course, is a bit of humor, as Allen picks medical terms as Greek names.
Diabetes (a.k.a. Actor, a.k.a. Euripedes)appears in God
Although the actor Diabetes comes off as conservative early in the play, when he insists that the play have an ending and, later, that Doris not interfere, Diabetes also first proposes the idea of unscripted characters. When the play begins to unravel, Diabetes makes the unprecedented decision to take a bathroom break, something that would've been impossible in a tightly scripted context. This foreshadows the decision he will make later in the role of Euripides, when again the script fails.
Diabetes, especially in the role of Euripides, is the author's argument for self-governance. Because he is willing and able to act outside of a scripted context, Diabetes shows that he exists as an individual, someone who doesn't need a script to complete himself. It's interesting to note, however, that Diabetes is only able to achieve this freedom in the absence of a script. So long as the script is present, the actor is forced to act within its confines. This might be construed as the author's argument for atheism, since it appears that a man can only define himself if there are no definitions imposed upon him. Diabetes' name, of course, is a bit of humor, as Allen picks medical terms as Greek names.
Bursitisappears in God
Bursitis is a Greek who is forced by Trichinosis to use the deus ex machina to play the role of Zeus in Hepatitis' play. The machine malfunctions and, rather than descending from the heavens as Zeus, Bursitis is instead accidentally killed. Bursitis's name is part of a joke throughout "God," where the author uses medical terms instead of Greek names.
Doris Levineappears in God
Doris is the young, attractive philosophy minor that Hepatitis calls up from the audience to help him answer a few of his more nagging questions. Being from beyond the third wall, Doris represents a disruption to the play. She is, with her attitude as well as her beauty, the outside factor that throws the play off kilter. Doris is the only character in the play-within-a-play who isn't assigned another name. This suggests that Doris, who exists outside the context of the play, also exists outside the context of the second play.
Blanche DuBoisappears in God
A character borrowed from A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche escaped from her own play in the hopes of finding a play where God exists.
Bob and Wendy Fateappears in God
Bob and Wendy, together, serve as the hand of fate. They provide the largely ineffective impetus for Euripides to begin his journey. Ultimately it is the phone call from Woody Allen himself, not the fates, who sends Euripides on his way.
Kingappears in God
The King in Allen's play "God" is King Oedipus. He tries to kill Euripides for delivering a message that affirms God's existence. The king fears divine punishment for all his crimes.
Lorenzo Millerappears in God
Lorenzo Miller claims to be the author responsible for the audience attending the play "God." He also introduces Hepatitis's play-within-a-play.
Trichinosisappears in God
Trichinosis is the inventor and marketer of the deus ex machina, a machine that will allow the god Zeus to come down at the end of a play and save the hero. He rents the machine to Hepatitis, but it fails horribly during the final act of the play, accidentally killing Bursitis.
Vincent van Goghappears in If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists
Based on the real-life impressionistic painter of the same name, the Vincent van Gogh in Allen's short story is a mediocre dentist with the vocation-inappropriate sensibilities of an artist. He values the aesthetic over the practical and treats dentistry itself not as a craft or service profession but as an outlet for self-expression. The story is a collection of Vincent's letters, and so he serves as the narrator, depicting the trials and tribulations of an artist trapped in the life of a dentist, where no one appreciates his great and creative work. The complaints of the dentist are nearly identical to those of the artist.
Vincent van Gogh proves moody, anxious and perhaps a bit paranoid. He is passionately obsessed with a woman named Claire Memling until one day she rejects him, refusing to rinse for anything less than a fully licensed orthodontist. To prove his love to Claire, van Gogh cuts off his own ear and gives it to her as a birthday present.
Van Gogh's character pokes fun at the accepted temperament of artists, and by placing someone of artistic temperament into the everyday profession of dentist, Allen highlights the ridiculousness of van Gogh's behavior. At the end of the series of letters, van Gogh mentions that he should have become an artist, since the life would have been more regular. Allen seems to be indicating here that people are responsible for their fates. Van Gogh, whether a dentist or an artist, is the same tortured, dissatisfied soul. No change of profession would change his personality or his reaction to the world.
Claire Memlingappears in If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists
Claire is Vincent van Gogh's obsession, based on the real Vincent van Gogh's love. Ultimately, she rejects him, prompting Vincent to try winning her affection by offering his own severed ear as a birthday present.
Weinsteinappears in No Kaddish for Weinstein
Weinstein is a depressed man, deeply dissatisfied with his life. At fifty-one, he feels that it's too late to change course, and so Weinstein watches the world through defeated eyes, unable to hope for anything better. Weinstein's ennui is so deep that he becomes a parody of grief and depression themselves. In this way, Weinstein's depression is similar to Woody Allen's anxieties in "Selections from the Allen Notebooks."
Weinstein feels inferior to women. Attaining love seems impossible to him, since he can never feel worthy of a woman's attention. Because of this feeling, Weinstein is self-defeating. Still, Weinstein has a lover named LuAnne, showing that his feelings of inadequacy are perhaps unnecessary. He is both tragic and absurd in his grief.
At the end of "No Kaddish for Weinstein," Weinstein cries, but he can't even do that right. He cries out his ears (something Allen also mentions in "Selections"). This is the ultimate failure. As much as he's filled with passionate depression, Weinstein's emotions turn out to be comic. Weinstein's world is an earmark of Woody Allen's style, pathos overdone to the point of comedy, the very definition of bathos.
LuAnneappears in No Kaddish for Weinsteain
LuAnne is Weinstein's lover. She unintentionally intimidates Weinstein with her sexual prowess.
Big Floappears in Fine Time: An Oral Memoir
Dancer and speakeasy owner Big Flo takes great pride in having been there and done that. She makes a point of knowing everyone who's anyone and never lets anybody push her around. This gives Big Flo, also, a type of self-appointed authority. She claims that she knows what's going on and that she knows everyone who's anyone.
As happens throughout Allen's stories, this authority turns out to be false. When Big Flo claims to tell the story of Nick the Greek's victory over Jake the Greek, the story she tells has the opposite ending. Does Big Flo even know the truth? Many of Big Flo's stories, even the ones which are set up as victories, end in failure. This suggests that she values her losses as much as her gains.
Nick the Greekappears in Fine Times: An Oral Memoir
A regular at Big Flo's speakeasy, Nick wins the title "The Greek" from Jake the Greek. Big Flo says that she will tell the story of how this happens, but in the story, Nick does not win the title, which Jake the Greek keeps.
Jake the Greekappears in Fine Times: An Oral Memoir
Jake the Greek is a regular at Big Flo's speakeasy. He holds the title "The Greek" before Nick the Greek.
Jolsonappears in Fine Time: An Oral Memoir
Jolson, a name borrowed from the famous singer Al Jolson, is a singer who wants to perform at Big Flo's speakeasy. Big Flo sells the property just to keep Jolson from finishing a song in her establishment.
Ed Wheelerappears in Fine Times: An Oral Memoir
Ed Wheeler is Big Flo's second boss. Ed dies when his head suddenly catches fire. Al Capone is believed to be responsible for Ed's death.
Ned Smallsappears in Fine Times: An Oral Memoir
Ned Smalls, speakeasy proprietor and resident leg-breaker, is Big Flo's husband until he's rubbed out by Al Capone just a few days after the wedding.
This section contains 4,767 words
(approx. 12 pages at 400 words per page)