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The Shopping Cart Man


Key Characters from

The Shopping Cart Man

The following is a list of key characters named in "The Shopping Cart Man"

Character Name


Source of Character's Name and Characteristics


The father of the family.  He's in his mid thirties.  He's a friendly guy and genuinely polite and kind hearted, but very determined when it comes to driving.  He likes to get on the road and then not be encumbered by other drivers.  He insists on doing most of the driving merely because it's in his nature to lead out and he sees this as one of the things "a husband should do" to provide for his family.  He has a bit of a bitter edge hidden deeply inside of him that can be aroused given the right circumstance, that even his children are unaware of.  This edge harkens back to a bad experience he had long ago.

My dad's middle name is Frank.  There are a couple attributes in Frank that he shares in common with my dad, such as being a "roof racker," "getting on the road," and rubbing his hands together when excited, but those are the only intentional similarities.


The mother of the family.  She's kind, supportive, and enjoys keeping busy.  She's a thinker and level-headed.  She sees not just "good" in people, but their potential.  She's very supportive of her husband and children and wants to see them do their best and become their best.  She reminds them in kind but direct ways when they are not living up to their potential.

My mom's middle name is Joyce.  She and Joyce have many wonderful characteristics, but I didn't consciously model Joyce after my mother.


The oldest boy in the family.  He's a rambunctious pre-teen who likes to have fun.  He's clever, but easily distracted.  He has a deep love and sense of "protection" for his younger brother, due in large part to a terrible experience they had a couple of years earlier.

The book of "Luke" is the only Gospel that tells the parable of "The Good Samaritan".  I'll always be able to remember that, now.  ;^)


The only girl in the family.  She's a smart girl that likes to read.  She tolerates her brothers when they are being "boys", but actually enjoys spending time with them - when she has to.  She's friendly and has a deep, genuine concern for others that goes beyond herself and focuses on the other people's needs.

My wife named "Emma".  She's always liked that name.  We almost named each of our girls "Emma" before deciding on a different name...


A sweet, young guy, who is the youngest in the family.  He's probably never had a malicious thought in his life, which makes the terrible experience he had a couple of years back all the more tragic.  It has emotionally scared him to the point that he has not spoken in over two years.  He admires and loves his older brother.  Since "the incident" they have grown particularly close and con understand each other in ways no one else can.

While it is true that I have a brother named "Ken", this character was not necessarily named after him.  I was going for a "young sounding" name.  The first one I tried was "Timmy," but that seemed too cliche.

Sam / Louis

The lead, title character.  He's a good man who is down on his luck.  He doesn't know if that is because of his own doing, or someone else's.  He's so concentrated on finding food and living day-to-day, that he's never had the luxury to stop and think about it.  Once the family picks him up, he realizes that he's assured meals for at least a couple of days.  Before long, his subconscious senses this security and kicks into gear with trying to sort out his mysterious past.  He begins having abstract dreams that hint at events or situations.  These quickly morph into flashbacks of events that have played a significant role in his current state.  Bit by bit he realizes he needs to make sense of all this if he's to be able to carry on with his life.

The origin of the name "Sam" is explained in the book.  The name "Louis" just seemed to fit.  The name "Smythe" is in honor of a good friend I met when we both hired on at a company that offered me my first "real job" many years ago.  The name "Nicholas" is from Charles Dickens' character Nicholas Nickleby who also goes through hardships before finding himself again.

"Uncle" Steve

Steve has been a family friend for as long as Frank can remember.  He's always been there for the family and in many ways he was the father Frank never knew.  Frank's kids have grown to love him too, endowing him with the title "Uncle".

I wanted a standard, common name for him that represented the traditional, common good neighbor that can be found in many neighborhoods.  I tried a few different names before settling on "Steve."


Charlie is a good-natured man who hires Louis.  His life is a bit of a paradox.  He genuinely enjoys people, but puts himself in positions where he has little or no interaction with them, such as working at the railyard.  He takes an immediate liking to Louis and feels a strong connection to him.  In his own way, he wants to help Louis in his quest in the hopes of seeing Louis regain himself, without being too obvious about it.

"Charlie" just seemed like a nice, friendly name for this character.

Sandy, the waitress

Sandy represents some deeply nested progress in Louis' quest.  For the purposes of symbolism in the story, she's not just a friendly waitress.

This waitress was named for my sister-in-law who was the first to read through the first draft of the novel and offer some great insights.  Thanks!

Wade & Susie

This couple are old friends of Frank's dating back to his high school days.  Wade was always there for Frank during his growing up years.  He was particularly significant for Frank in the absence of his father.

This couple, but not their children, were named for my freshman year college roommate and his wife - whom he later married later.  They're still good friends even though we see them far too seldomly.
Tom & Brynn

This couple lives in the neighborhood that Louis moves into.  They welcome him in many ways and are impressed with his attitude and outlook on life.

This couple are named after my brother and his wife.  While the characters' actions aren't based on anything in real life, I can picture Tom doing something similar if the occasion called for it.

Gas Attendant

The unnamed character in the gas station in Reno.

He remains unnamed as he represents all of us who have viewed homeless people in the way depicted in the story.  He becomes an uncomfortable mirror for Frank to gaze into.  Frank doesn't like what he sees....
High School Office Worker The unnamed character in the Bartlesville High School office. She remains unnamed as she represents all of us who have ever helped someone else in need, without thought of reward.  She's one of countless individuals in our lives that help point us in the right direction, but that we don't see or realize it at the time.  Nor, do we have or take the opportunity to thank them.
"Old Bessie" The shopping cart man's shopping cart.  The cart is symbolic of many things.  I grew to gain a small taste of how attached Sam must have grown to the cart while spending an entire night in the Oslo, Norway airport.  I had a cart on which I stored my luggage, while in between flights.  At some point in the night, someone took my cart (leaving my luggage).  I was able to get a different cart, but couldn't help feel I'd lost a "friend" when my original cart was taken.  I must have been VERY tired... "Old Bessie" just sounded like the right name for a cart (or, a favorite cow).
The little girl in the dream This is the unnamed character that offers Sam a hand during his first significant dream.

BTW, I envisioned an old-fashioned 1800's style 4th of July carnival taking place behind Sam, that the girl wanted to attend with Sam.  The dream's symbolism didn't allow for this, however.  Sam wasn't ready for that level of experience, and what it would represent, yet.

This is actually a fairly deep imagery character.  She is and she isn't Emma.  She goes well beyond that.  She is a significant part of the imagery and symbolism of Sam's dream, and represents a key, next-step requirement for Sam.  I'd love to talk with you about this some time....

©2006, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer

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©2006, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
Last modified: 11/15/12