Characters and Themes

Main Characters
Additional Characters
Central Themes


  • Proffy Proffy is an engaging, imaginative, insightful 12-year old boy. He is our narrator, navigating his life right outside of Jerusalem in 1947, the last year of the British mandate on what will soon become Israel. Longing to fight for the independence of his country, Proffy leads an underground (make-believe) rebellion with his friends that he calls “Freedom or Death,” also known as FOD. Proffy struggles with the ethics of his rebellion, understanding his parents, and navigating the world as a young boy. With his avid storytelling and perceptive outlook, Proffy is the heart of this narrative.


  • Sergeant Dunlap – Sergeant Dunlap is a slightly awkward British Policeman with a hunger for learning and a friendly energy. He is extremely interested in Jewish culture, and offers Proffy lessons in his own language in exchange to learn his. As the two become connected and bonded, spending more time together learning about each other, they foster an innocent friendship. Sergeant Dunlap’s character challenges Proffy to decide what is more important to him, his own allegiance, or his own personal intuition?



  • Proffy's Father –Proffy’s father is a strict man with a passion for reading and writing. He is an editorial assistant by day, but writes passionately about the history of the Jews in Poland for his book by night. His at-home library is described at length as being a haven for Proffy and a place of salvation for his father. Proffy’s father is intense and committed to justice, but in subtle moments, his severity is juxtaposed with gentleness. 


  • Proffy's Mother –Proffy’s mother is a more optimistic character compared to her husband. She is the one Proffy looks to in moments where he can’t relate to his father. She worked as a schoolteacher for immigrant orphans who hid from the Nazis during the war, and so it is suggested that her sensitive demeanor might be connected to her war experiences. 


  • Ben Hur and Chita Reznik –Ben Hur and Chita Reznik are Proffy’s friends who join him for this underground rebellion. The three differ on many of their opinions eventually resulting in the two deeming Proffy a traitor, questioning his allegiance to FOD, and unknowingly questioning his ideas of Self. Proffy has many tiffs with these young friends of his, illustrating how difficult it can be to stage a mutiny, even as children. 


  • Yardena Yardena is Ben Hur’s older sister, who Proffy struggles in hiding his romantic feelings for. Initially, Yardena is out of reach, but as the narrator of Proffy reflects on his experiences with her, we learn about her role in his mental growth and development.



  • Identity – Proffy’s struggles with his identity mirrored in this novel by the backdrop of the country he lives in is struggling with its own identity. As Israel develops into its own country, creating a national identity, Proffy searches for meaning in his own life. When he is called a traitor, it confuses Proffy’s entire concept of his identity, challenging him to decide who he really is, and what he really stands for. As Proffy searches for his identity as a child, his older self narrates the text from a place of maturity, yet there is still an analysis of self, and of place in the world. The search for identity is a prevalent theme in this text, in little and big ways.
  • Family – With the Holocaust preceding where we begin in this novel, family takes on a new meaning for the Jewish people. The family dynamic in this novel is very interesting. Proffy must interpret the mixed signals that his father gives of sympathy and strictness, as well as try to understand his parents' involvement with soldiers and the larger rebellions. There is a lot of secrecy and quietness in Proffy’s house, causing speculation and consistent uncertainty. But there is also a love, and a devotion to making this life better than the one before. Proffy navigates his family dynamic as he tries to discover what connection means to him.


  • >Loyalty – The backdrop of the creation of modern day Israel makes for a narrative centered around the idea of loyalty.  One of the central plots in this narrative is about what makes a person a traitor.  Proffy’s mother tells him one cannot be a traitor if they can feel love, but his friends tell him that feeling love for the enemy is what makes one a traitor. These confusing dualities challenge Proffy to decide what loyalty means to him. Should he be loyal to FOD, his own creation of rebellion, or loyal to his own instincts, interests and curiosity? Who does he owe his allegiance to more, himself, or the State of Israel. Loyalty is an extremely important theme in this novel set in a time where it has never been so valued and needed.


Panther in the Basement’s Homepage

Rachel Milberg ’19

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