The most important characters in the short story “The Penis” by Hanif Kureishi are Alfie and Doug. The personified penis, named “Long Dong”, also functions as a character in the short story because it is personified, so we will analyse it as well.
Alfie is the first character whose perspective the narrator uses. The first part of the narration is focused on him, but he also appears briefly in the second part when he meets Doug.
According to Alfie’s outer characterisation, he is “a cutter—a hairdresser” (p. 79, l. 3) and he married his wife a year earlier in Las Vegas (p. 79, l. 7). We also find out that—according to his wife—Alfie’s penis is smaller than that of Doug (p. 80, l. 4).
From Alfie’s inner characterisation, we find out that he is a man who parties, does drugs and watches porn, but we also realise that these aspects are not necessarily considered bad by the society depicted in the short story: “ ‘There was a club and a lot of people. Later there was a porn film.’ ” (p. 79, l. 11); “He would examine his wallet and see how much money he had spent, whether he had any cocaine left…” (p. 79, ll. 20-21)
The fact that Alfie did not like the porn movie he had seen and compares it to a “butcher’s shop” (p. 79, l. 13) suggests that he might be more conventional in terms of sexuality. Furthermore, his reaction to discovering he has brought home a penis further suggests that he is uncomfortable with sexual issues:
Doug is the most important character of the short story because most of the narrative is focused on him and his quest to find his penis.
The man’s outer characterisation informs us he is a good-looking porn actor in his forties: “… Doug, an actor, got out of bed and strolled into his new bathroom. He was in his early forties but looked superb.” (p. 81, ll. 1-2)
The man’s inner characterisation is marked by his relationship with his penis. Because Doug has achieved fame in the porn industry thanks to his sexual performances, he has become both attached to and dependant on his penis which he describes as “the stick of rock” (p. 81, l. 32), “the eighth wonder of the world” (p. 81, l. 42), or “his greatest asset” (p. 82, l. 1).
Doug prides himself on his sexual performances and views himself as a talented entertainer, worthy of public acclaim: “He believed he was entitled to the gratitude and respect that comedians, singers and political impersonators received.” (p. 81, ll. 21-22); “How many of them could keep it up, under hot lights and with a film crew around them, for hours on end, year after year?” (p. 81, ll. 28-29)
As a result, his attitude when he discovers his penis is missing and his subsequent frantic search are understandable. Doug’s career and livelihood depend on the work he does with his penis: “Doug thought he might faint. He sat on the edge of the bath with his head between his legs, but the position only reminded him of his loss.” (p. 81, ll. 14-15)
In this short story, the penis (named “Long Dong” by its owner) is personified and functions as a character. It can move for itself even when it isn’t attached to Doug and exhibits human traits.
Long Dong’s outer characterisation presents it as big and good looking on various occasions: “ ‘Bigger than yours. Bigger than most I’ve seen.’” (p. 80, ll. 4-5); “The penis, tall, erect and wearing dark glasses and a fine black jacket was smiling.” (p. 82, ll. 9-10)
His owner describes Long Dong as “the stick of rock” (p. 81, l. 32), “the eighth wonder of the world” (p. 81, l. 42), or “his greatest asset” (p. 82, l. 1).
Long Dong’s inner characterisation suggests that the penis has many of the traits of his owner. Like Doug, Long Dong enjoys fame and popularity: