Character Analysis

Included below is a character analysis about Marcus Isaacson and Lucius Isaacson from the Alienist books. For basic information about the Isaacson brothers, quotes made by the Isaacson brothers, or character testimonials about the Isaacson brothers, please use the side menu.

The Isaacsons

Marcus & Lucius Isaacson Character Analysis

The Detective Sergeants are perhaps, thus far, the least developed of the seven main characters. One of their primary functions in the novels is comic relief; however, they are not wholly comical characters and a novel from one of their perspectives would probably be intriguing.

Childhood & Upbringing

The Isaacsons, though born in the United States, come from a Jewish immigrant family. It is unclear what their family’s country of origin is; all we can say is that their mother appears to speak a Germanic language of some sort. Regardless, Caleb Carr’s focus is not the struggles that arise from their being first-generation Americans, but the struggles that arise from their being Jewish. Both Marcus and Lucius are highly intelligent and well-educated — we know that Marcus has trained to be a lawyer while Lucius has trained to be a doctor — however, they are constantly impeded by anti-Semitism. Marcus mentions in The Alienist that their parents gave them, as well as their sister Cordelia, English names so as to prevent them from being subjected to anti-Semitism at school (names which they acquired from Shakespeare after reading his works to learn English). It is unknown whether or not this move spared them anti-Semitism at school, but it certainly has not in their careers.

Characters & Personalities

They did work for Pinkertons, the private detective agency, but were unable to join the police force until Theodore Roosevelt became commissioner. Roosevelt, as John explains in The Alienist, “had made a point of hiring unlikely new recruits, in an effort to break the hold that the clique headed by Thomas Byrnes and such precinct heads as “Clubber” Williams and “Big Bill” Devery had on the force” (A 74). It is because of this that the Isaacsons were appointed Detective Sergeants; however, Roosevelt cannot prevent them from being scorned by the older, traditional police on the force. In fact, they are outcast by almost everyone besides Roosevelt in the police department.

Both of the Isaacsons are therefore not only very intelligent but also very strong, pursuing their unorthodox ideas despite the resentment toward them. Their ideas are indeed quite unorthodox, and they often use methods of investigation which will be standard a century later but which are almost completely unheard of in their time. For example, they introduce fingerprinting to the Beecham case, which in the late nineteenth century is a brand new science and almost completely unheard of, not to mention looked down upon by the police department and useless in court. The Isaacsons appear to have a complete disregard for accepted methods of investigation, which does not aid them in being accepted by their peers.

Because of their struggles at the police department and their outstandingly open minds, the Isaacsons are very intriguing characters; however, as mentioned before, they quite often play the role of comic relief in the novels. Although they are similarly intelligent and share the same professional opinions, in personality they are quite opposite, and are at constant odds with one another. Marcus, the older brother, is described as tall and handsome, while Lucius, by contrast, is short and considerably less handsome, and constantly appears nervous: his forehead always “beaded with sweat” (A 73). Despite his anxieties, however, it is Lucius who determinedly tries to make other police officers in the department aware of advances in forensic science, leading Marcus to accuse him of “grandstanding” and putting their careers in jeopardy, perhaps indicating that Lucius is actually the more self-assured of the two brothers. Lucius also greatly admires Dr. Kreizler, another passionate reformer, as Stevie describes in The Angel of Darkness, 195:

Lucius stood by the big chalkboard, picking up a nib of chalk and shaking it around in his closed hand just the way the Doctor liked to do: Lucius had the greatest admiration for Dr. Kreizler, in a kind of boyish way that sometimes made him seem to want to emulate the man in small ways as well as big.

Of the two brothers, Carr has probably spent slightly more time developing Lucius: we also know that he has a way with children, as demonstrated when he takes care of the infant Ana Linares after she is retrieved. Carr writes that Stevie observes Lucius “gently rocking back and forth as he held a content Ana Linares in his arms” (AoD 605), after which Lucius, embarrassed, explains that he changed Ana Linares’ diaper to stop her from crying.

— Last updated on by Kim