At six foot tall and very handsome, extremely intelligent, but under-confident, John is lost in a world where he feels entirely out of place. He misbehaves at school and develops questionable friendships. His parents don’t understand him and his desire to be an actor, but through his friendship with Mr. Pignati, John gains insight into the fears and dissatisfaction that make his parents tick. In some ways, he is more of a parent by the end of the story than they are.
His time with Mr. Pignati helps John see the truth about life and death: each of us makes our own way in this world and can only blame ourselves when life becomes distorted; we must each try to make something of ourselves of which we can be proud before we die. His ability to come to this conclusion shows John has matured beyond his years and will now have even greater potential for success. Nevertheless, he will carry with him for the rest of his life the mistakes he made that led to Mr. Pignati’s death.
She is a teenager who is deeply involved in adolescent anxiety and fears. She has little selfesteem because of her mother’s constant criticism and her own anxieties. She makes friends with John, because he overlooks what she considers her faults and is willing to go along with much of his silly, immature behavior. The people she knows are, like her, filled with their own anxieties and inabilities to handle what life throws at them. However, in spite of her own poor self-image, Lorraine understands and feels great compassion for others. She knows John’s character well and is much more patient with him than anyone else. She sees the shortcomings others exhibit and feels sorry for them and hopes for the best. She tries intensely to do the right thing and even though she often fails, her intuition frequently reveals the truth about someone or something. As a result, she beats herself up over not acting on the “omens” she felt before much of the tragedy of this novel occurred and in the end, she, like John, must live with the consequences for the rest of her life.
Looking like Santa Claus, telling silly jokes, and playing silly games, this old man, who dies at the end, represents what life can become for many of us. He was happy as long as his wife was alive. When he lost her, life became meaningless until John and Lorraine entered his world. Even though, as John relates, he trespassed into a world where he didn’t belong, for that short time, he was happy and he gave the same happiness to John and Lorraine. They can be held to blame for his death, but he can also be blamed. In his unbearable loneliness, he reached out for anyone who could offer him comfort. Unfortunately, he reached out to the wrong people and he gave up his life in the end. He is an admirable character, however, who we would want to emulate: he knew how to share the love and happiness he felt even with complete strangers.
This woman cannot break the walls of bitterness down. She was evidently at one time very happy with Lorraine’s father, but for reasons beyond just sleeping with another woman, he left them and died before he could ever ask to return. Lorraine’s mother has never been able to forgive him and teaches Lorraine all the wrong thins about men: they’re only out for one thing and they’re not to be trusted. Fortunately, Lorraine recognizes the sadness behind her mother’s behavior, and even though she doesn’t like how this woman treats her, she can live with the knowledge and maybe learn from it. As for her mother, the author seems to indicate that she will spend the rest of her life caught in the cage she has built for herself. She is a baboon, too.
John’s mother lives in complete denial. She hates the discord built up in their house because John is different and his father fights with him about his difference. She prefers to concentrate on the beautiful if cold home she has built and like the baboon’s cage, she is trapped in it. John’s father is very simply living in the cage of his career. He sells coffee commodities on the Stock Exchange and even though it’s a high pressure, very stressful career, he has encouraged his oldest son to take a position there, too, and wants John to come there after he graduates as well. He is incapable of seeing beyond his own world or understanding a son who might have different aspirations. Perhaps, he fears John is doomed to failure and he wants to prevent it or perhaps he can’t accept the idea that John might escape the same cage that he, John’s father, has built for himself.
The scene where John stays with the Pigman is very poignant. The monkeys’ screams were almost like the proverbial death knell, tolling out the life of a man for whom they cared. And when John kneels to his side, they become quiet, perhaps in Mr. Pignati’s honor. Everything about the mystery of life and death overwhelms John at this point. He is confused by grown-ups who seem to have given up and try not to wonder about their miniscule part in the world. He doesn’t want to be like them, but he is frustrated that he is also rudderless in this great sea where we all live. The only thing he knows to do is reach out to the one person who will understand his confusion, his fear, and his anger – Lorraine. They both know they have lost something very wonderful with Mr. Pignati’s death. They have lost his presence and his friendship and all he might have taught them about the world and their place in it. They now must make their own way and they can blame no one or nothing for their mistakes. Both generations trespassed, as John says, where they didn’t belong and in spite of the fact that they gained much from each other, they must now pay for that trespass. They are baboons and they have built their own cages.
Norton Kelly and Dennis Kobin
These two young men symbolize those young people who are doomed to failure. Their very natures indicate they will live lives that are antitheses to those of John and Lorraine. They will perhaps be small time criminals or maybe serious lawbreakers who will probably spend much of their lives in prison. At the least, they will never be able to make any success of their lives. These will be the cages they build for themselves, because they, too, are baboons.
John and Lorraine’s Friends
These young people are all misfits and “losers” and are part of the story as a reflection of where John and Lorraine believe they belong for most of the novel. They all have social and psychological problems and represent a world where John and Lorraine were almost trapped. Their cages are lives that are less than successful, but to which they believe are the highest they can aspire. They are just more baboons at the zoo.