The novel's protagonist is a shamelessly free-spirited man who narrates The Dharma Bums with an almost childlike tone of honesty, curiosity and effervescence. As a mountain-climber, hitchhiker, Zen meditator, poet and partier, Ray's adventures cover the gamut of human experiences. The stories he tells are explorations of friendship, freedom and meaningful existence - or, at the very least, acceptance of the world's absurdity.
Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder)
Oriental scholar and erstwhile woodsman, Japhy is also one of Ray's most steadfast friends who inspires and encourages him to climb Matterhorn and work as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak. Although he is significantly older than Japhy, Ray sincerely admires his remarkable leadership abilities, lifestyle, and tireless enthusiasm. Their friendship endures despite disagreements and disputes; Japhy is frequently in Ray's thoughts.
Alvah Goldbook (Allen Ginsberg)
Because he and Ray live together during the first part of The Dharma Bums, the two characters share many of the same experiences. Alvah is usually depicted in a bacchanalian setting - playing yabyum with Princess, for example, drinking with his friends, or walking around naked at a party - and largely dismisses Buddhism in favor of a "carpe diem" conception of the world. This attitude ultimately irritates Ray as he struggles with celibacy and his conception of the world as a meaningless void.
Henry Morley (John Montgomery)
Henry accompanies Ray and Japhy to Matterhorn. His main personality quirks are his absent-mindedness and his tendency to ramble incessantly and incoherently; Ray sometimes finds him a bit annoying.
A beautiful blonde nymphomaniac who is all too happy to partake in Japhy's "yabyum" ritual. She genuinely believes that by playing her role she is a Bodhisattva - an idea that Japhy, for one reason or another, supports. Ray is strongly conflicted over his intense desire for Princess - for whom he has lusted in the past - and his personal devotion to celibacy.
Rosie Buchanan (Natalie Jackson)
Rosie is only introduced briefly before she becomes hysterical; she tried to flush a list of her friends' sins down the toilet and ended up backing it up, and is thus paranoid that the cops are coming for them. Ray tries to convince Rosie that her fears are "meaningless," but the very next morning she successfully commits suicide.
Cody Pomeray (Neal Cassady)
Rosie's husband, who insists that Ray watch his distraught wife while he works one evening. After Rosie's suicide, he is concerned that she will not go to Purgatory unless her friends pray for her.
Sean Monahan (Locke McCorkle)
Sean - young, fair and frugal - lives a happy life with his peaceful wife Christine and their two daughters. He allows Japhy - and later Ray, also - to live in a shack on the hill behind his house. He hosts enormous parties so frequently that by the time of Japhy's farewell bash, he and Ray are no longer excited about the celebration.
Another of Japhy's beautiful lovers. Psyche gets into a mysterious fight with Japhy, but ultimately breaks down and yields to him again before he departs for Japan.
Rol Sturlason (Will Petersen)
Rol is a relatively minor character who, like his friend Japhy, is extremely enthusiastic about Buddhism and ultimately travels to Japan to study it seriously.
Bud is Ray's companion as they sit on the sidelines of Monahan's parties and concede that dancing naked women are not attractive to them. But Monahan's later drunken idea to "see if there are any girls left" at the party reveals that he, like Ray, may be merely denying his lust.
Ray's mother, brother, sister-in-law and young nephew live in a house in North Carolina, which he visits during the winter and spring. His family is often irritated with his idleness and immersion in Buddhism.
A seasoned Cascade Range mountaineer, Burnie remembers and speaks very highly of Japhy.
Rheinhold Cacoethes (Kenneth Rexroth)
Rheinhold is one of the poets who participates in the Gallery Six poetry reading; Ray typecasts him as a "bow-tied wild-haired old anarchist fud." He believes that Ray drinks too much and is a bit scornful of him.
Ike O'Shay (Michael McClure)
Like the other characters Ray mentions briefly in the Gallery Six scene in Chapter 2, Ike O'Shay is based off of a real-world poet. Ray describes him as "delicate, pale and handsome."
Francis DePavia (Philip Lamantia)
Yet another Gallery Six poet that Ray describes as an "out-of-this-world genteel-looking Renaissance Italian." Ray claims that although he secretly mocks DePavia's delicate and highbrow poetry, the two later become friends.
Warren Coughlin (Philip Whalen)
The final Gallery Six participant that Ray mentions; a "big fat bespectacled quiet bobo." Warren is mentioned more often than the other poets because he is often present at drinking bouts and parties with Ray and Alvah.
Japhy's boisterous and spirited sister, who is about to be married to a middle-class man from Chicago. According to Japhy, she is far too wild to settle down with someone like him and will soon break up the marriage.
Happy the muleskinner
Another of Japhy's old friends and Ray's escort to Desolation Peak. He has a jovial nature and a wry sense of humor.
Dharma Bums Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Dharma Bums is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.