The characters in ‘The Moustache’ range from a conflicted grandmother to a teenager who undergoes a transformation.
In this lesson, we’ll explore each of the characters from Robert Cormier’s short story.
An Eye-Opening Experience
When 17-year-old Mike goes to visit his grandmother in the nursing home, he is greeted by a woman whose failing mind mistakes the teenager for her late husband. A conversation about the past, a long-delayed apology, and a moustache all play a role in Mike’s eye-opening experience. Let’s take a closer look at the small cast of characters in Robert Cormier’s ”The Moustache.
Analyzing ”The Moustache” Characters
In ”The Moustache,” we meet Mike’s mom, his sister, his grandmother, and Mike himself. We also learn a thing or two about Mike’s late grandfather, for whom he is named. Here’s a breakdown of each role:1. Ellen (Mike’s mother): Ellen is the stereotypical mother character, concerned about her son’s appearance – namely his hair and moustache – as he’s going to visit his grandmother. About his hair, she remarks, ”Well, at least you combed it,” but is more concerned about his moustache. Not only is it costing him money, but she’s concerned that her own mother won’t recognize him. In this story, as in real-life, when grown children are caring for aging parents, Ellen takes on the role of ”parenting” her own mother.
The author tells us she travels 30 miles each way, every day, to visit with her mother, a sacrifice of time and love.2. Annie (Mike’s sister): Annie is what you might call a drama queen. Instead of joining her brother for the trip to the nursing home, the author tells us she ”was in bed, groaning theatrically,” which caused Mike to make the trip solo. Annie is Mike’s older sibling and a college student, but she laments her inability to go on a date with Harry Arnold (more so than not being able to visit her grandmother), thanks to the sudden illness.3. Mike: Mike is the central character in the story.
It’s his ”moustache” that prompts the title of the story. Mike’s too young to wear facial hair, according to his mother, but he grew it out to prove a point (and then decided he actually really liked it). In fact, the moustache is costing him money because it makes him look older, so he’s charged more at the theater when he takes his girlfriend for a show. Call it teenage rebellion or pride, but Mike’s perfectly content to go against his mother’s wishes and sacrifice his wallet for the facial hair that makes him feel more grown up.
In some ways, Mike exhibits childishness:
- ”…I could barrel along in my father’s new Le Mans. My ambition was to see the speedometer hit seventy-five,” he said.
- Sitting in the parking lot of the nursing home, contemplating where he’d rather be: ”Then I thought of all the Christmas and birthday gifts my grandmother had given me and I got out of the car, guilty, as usual.
- Lying about his moustache: ”I’m thinking about shaving it off. Even though I wasn’t.
Another discovery: You can build a way of life on postponement.”But, the crux of the story is the growth that happens to Mike in a simple visit to the nursing home.
After dealing with feelings of discomfort and sadness when he realizes his grandmother has mistaken him for her late husband, it causes Mike to reflect on the lives of the people around him, rather than merely their relationship to him: ”And then you find out that she’s a person. She’s somebody. She’s my grandmother, all right, but she’s also herself.
Like my own mother and father. They exist outside of their relationship to me.”It may have been a moustache that made Mike feel like a grown-up initially, but it is the encounter with his grandmother that causes a real maturing to occur. Mike is changed from a naive or youthful outlook to more be aware and mature.
4. Meg (Mike’s grandmother): While her physical and mental faculties have failed her, ”her memory has betrayed her as well as her body,” our first introduction to Meg is Mike’s description of her in better days: ”She used to make the greatest turkey dressing in the world and was a nut about baseball and could even quote batting averages, for crying out loud. She always rooted for the losers. She was in love with the Mets until they started to win.”She is white-headed, despite looking girlish in appearance, and has a voice ”like syrup being poured.”For all of that, we see a regretful character who mourns for the lost opportunities of her past. She tells Mike (thinking he is her late husband) she’s been waiting for the moment he would come visit: ”I’ve thought and thought about it.
And I finally made up my mind — I’d ask you to forgive me.” She carries a lot of remorse for things that have occurred in the past, and in a moment of clarity, she is able to ask for – and receive – the forgiveness she’s been craving – at least in her own mind. It seems to give her some release because her eyes turn back to an emptiness, ”Without recognition or curiosity.”5. Mike (Meg’s late husband): We never meet this character, but he is part of the conversation that Meg and her grandson have when young Mike is at the nursing home. Mike, Meg’s late husband, appears to have been falsely accused of something (an infidelity, perhaps) but is soft in his response to Meg’s accusations. Yet, something in him is broken because Meg says their relationship was never the same afterward.
The short, but varied list of characters in ”The Moustache” range from the dramatic Annie to the typical mother role presented by Ellen, who is not only parenting Annie and Mike, but in some ways, her own mother as well. Mike undergoes a transformation in the story, from the childishness of things like speeding in his dad’s car to the maturity of understanding that people have emotions and memories outside of his own relationship with them. Meg, Mike’s grandmother, presented a regretful character in the story.
Her body and mind have failed her, but she has a longing about a past encounter from which she seeks forgiveness. Once her grandson is able to give that to her, she returns to a shell of herself, empty once again.