A Sport and a Pastime
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"A Sport and a Pastime" Characters Analysis

By James Salter

fiction | 185 pages | Published in NaN

"As nearly perfect as any American fiction I know," is how Reynolds Price (The New York Times) described this classic that has been a favorite of readers, both here and in Europe, for almost forty years. Set in provincial France in the 1960s, it is the intensely carnal story—part shocking reality, part feverish dream —of a love affair between a footloose Yale dropout and a young French girl. There is the seen and the unseen—and pages that burn bright with a rare intensity.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
Anne-MarieLove Interest
Phillip DeanDean's Alter Ego
MariePhillip's Girlfriend

Role Identification

In "A Sport and a Pastime" by James Salter, the main character, Dean, is the protagonist. He is a young American man who embarks on a passionate affair with a French woman named Anne-Marie. Another significant character is Phillip Dean, who represents an alter ego for Dean. Marie, Phillip's girlfriend, also plays a role in the development of the story.

Character Descriptions

Dean: Dean is a complex character who is described as charismatic and adventurous. He is an American expatriate living in France, and his free-spirited nature makes him an intriguing figure. Dean is intelligent, observant, and has a deep appreciation for art and literature.

Anne-Marie: Anne-Marie is a young French woman who captures Dean's attention. She is described as beautiful and sensual, with a mysterious allure. Anne-Marie works as a hotel maid and is portrayed as innocent and somewhat naive.

Phillip Dean: Phillip Dean is a fictional character created by Dean. He is an American photographer who shares many similarities with Dean. Phillip represents Dean's alter ego and serves as a reflection of his desires and fantasies.

Marie: Marie is Phillip Dean's girlfriend. She is a French woman who becomes entangled in the complicated relationship between Dean and Anne-Marie. Marie is depicted as sensitive and somewhat insecure, often feeling overshadowed by Anne-Marie's allure.

Character Traits

Dean: Dean is adventurous, charismatic, and intellectual. He is also impulsive and prone to taking risks. Dean is passionate about literature and art, which adds depth to his character. He is a romantic at heart, seeking intense connections and experiences.

Anne-Marie: Anne-Marie is beautiful, sensual, and somewhat naive. She is kind-hearted and gentle, but also harbors a sense of longing for something more in life. Anne-Marie is drawn to Dean's adventurous spirit and becomes captivated by their passionate affair.

Phillip Dean: Phillip Dean shares many traits with Dean, as he is essentially a projection of his desires and fantasies. He is artistic, intelligent, and possesses a similar sense of adventure. Phillip serves as a reflection of Dean's inner thoughts and desires.

Marie: Marie is sensitive, loyal, and somewhat insecure. She struggles with feelings of inadequacy in comparison to Anne-Marie and often seeks validation from Phillip. Marie's character provides a contrast to the passionate relationship between Dean and Anne-Marie.

Character Background

Dean: Dean's background is not extensively explored in the novel. It is revealed that he is an American expatriate living in France and has a deep appreciation for literature and art. He is somewhat of a wanderer, constantly seeking new experiences and connections.

Anne-Marie: Anne-Marie's background is also not extensively detailed. She is a young French woman working as a hotel maid, and her life is portrayed as simple and somewhat mundane. Anne-Marie's encounter with Dean brings excitement and passion into her otherwise ordinary existence.

Phillip Dean: As an alter ego created by Dean, Phillip Dean's background is intertwined with Dean's own experiences and desires. He is presented as an American photographer living in France, sharing similar interests and passions with the protagonist.

Marie: Marie's background is not extensively explored in the novel either. She is presented as Phillip Dean's girlfriend and is depicted as a caring and loyal companion. Marie's character serves as a contrast to the intense relationship between Dean and Anne-Marie.

Character Arcs

Dean: Throughout the novel, Dean undergoes a transformation as he becomes deeply involved with Anne-Marie. He experiences a range of emotions, from intense passion to moments of uncertainty and longing. Dean's character arc explores themes of love, desire, and the complexities of human relationships.

Anne-Marie: Anne-Marie's character arc is closely tied to her relationship with Dean. She evolves from a somewhat passive and naive young woman to someone who embraces her own desires and takes risks. Her affair with Dean awakens a sense of freedom and self-discovery.

Phillip Dean: As an alter ego, Phillip Dean's character arc mirrors Dean's own journey. He represents the fantasy and desire within Dean's mind. Phillip's presence allows Dean to explore his deepest longings and confront his fears.

Marie: Marie's character arc is less pronounced compared to the other characters. She serves as a supporting character, providing a contrast to the intense relationship between Dean and Anne-Marie. Marie's arc explores themes of loyalty, insecurity, and the complexities of being in a relationship.


Dean and Anne-Marie: Dean and Anne-Marie's relationship forms the central focus of the novel. Their connection is intense and passionate, fueled by desire and a shared sense of adventure. However, their relationship is also marked by moments of uncertainty and longing, as they navigate the complexities of their own desires and the realities of their lives.

Dean and Phillip Dean: The relationship between Dean and Phillip Dean is more abstract, as Phillip represents an alter ego for Dean. Phillip serves as a reflection of Dean's desires and fantasies, allowing him to explore his own thoughts and emotions.

Dean and Marie: Dean and Marie's relationship is characterized by loyalty and friendship. Marie provides a stable presence in Dean's life, serving as a contrast to the intense relationship between Dean and Anne-Marie. Their relationship highlights themes of companionship and the complexities of love.

Anne-Marie and Marie: Anne-Marie and Marie's relationship is not extensively explored in the novel. However, their connection is marked by a sense of competition and insecurity, as they navigate the complexities of their own desires and their relationships with Dean and Phillip.

Overall, "A Sport and a Pastime" delves into the complexities of human relationships, desire, and self-discovery. The characters' interactions and personal journeys provide a rich exploration of love, passion, and the pursuit of happiness.