Character Journeys of Lonely Hunters
Of the four people who revolve around Singer, Biff is the most disengaged. It is typical of him that he is always the observer. In contrast to the driving enthusiasms of Mick, Jake and Doctor Copeland, Biff is nearly always coldly reflective. He has a passion for detail. His problem is getting at the main outlines of a situation from all the cluttered details in his mind, and he goes about this with his own painstaking patience.
"By nature all people are of both sexes. So that marriage and the bed is not all by any means. The proof? ... Old men's voices grow high and reedy ... and old women sometimes grow fat and their voices get rough and deep and they grow dark little mustaches." (p. 132)
Biff is strongly influenced by his own specific sexual experiences. At forty-four years old he is prematurely impotent—the cause both psychic as well as physical. He has been married to his wife for many years and from the beginning their marriage has been a mistake. They have endured together out of economic necessity and habit. As a compensation for his own dilemma, Biff comes to his own curious conclusions about marital relations. He believes that human beings are fundamentally ambi-sexual and he indulges some of his more feminine instincts as a result.
"That was all he wanted for himself—to give to her. Biff's mouth hardened. He had done nothing wrong but in him he felt a strange guilt. Why? The dark guilt in all men, unreckoned and without a name." (p. 233)
One person in the novel has a great emotional hold over Biff: Mick Kelly. Mick brings up in Biff nostalgic feelings of youth and heroism. She is at the age where she possesses both the qualities of a girl and of a boy and he feels intrigued by her and protective of her. Because he has no emotional connection to his wife, his connection to Mick takes on larger proportions than it might otherwise—though Biff never means for it to seem inappropriate.
"He was thinking that in nearly every person there was some special physical part kept always guarded. ... Funny to spot it in other people, though." (p. 29)
In spite of certain quirks of his nature, Biff is the most balanced person in the novel. He has a faculty for seeing the things that happen around him with objectivity and without instinctively connecting them with himself. He sees, hears and remembers everything. In the last few pages, it is Biff who threads through the details of the story—especially as it relates to Singer—and arrives at the most salient points. In his reflections Biff himself thinks of the word "parable" in connection to what has happened. He brings the book to a close with a final, objective roundness.
Mick | Doctor Copeland | Jake