About the Book

Book Protagonist: Steve Harmon
Publication Date: 1999
Genre: Crime Fiction, Drama



By Walter Dean Myers

Characterization in ‘Monster’ is so well-thought-out, everyone plays a vital role, from the protagonist, down to the guy that was featured in just one paragraph.

Like every book, ‘Monster’ by Walter Dean Myers has main characters, and every character in ‘Monster‘ plays a vital role, including the ones mentioned in only one scene. But we’ll focus on the major characters, the ones who, a little more than the others, defined the moments.

Steve Harmon

He is the protagonist, the one on trial for participating in a robbery that led to the death of Mr. Nesbitt, a middle-aged drugstore owner in Harlem City. He is the one whose imaginary camera we follow throughout the trial. A round character through and through, Steve Harmon is a fourteen-year-old old boy who finds himself losing hope severally, thinking it is all over.

He is presented as a quiet boy, very much loved by his family: his mother, Mrs. Harmon, his father, Mr. Harmon, and his little brother, Jerry. Before he signs out with his camera, we get to learn that he grows farther apart from his father. That is likely because the man is shocked that his son, his well-behaved son (or so he thought) could associate with the likes of Richard Evans ‘Bobo’, James King, and Osvaldo. Surely, he must have gotten a glimpse of the same things O’Brien saw in the courtroom that made her turn away when Steve meant to hug her after he was pronounced not guilty.


O’Brien is a human being in all ramifications; very compassionate with lots of empathy to spare. She is the lawyer in charge of one of the two defendants, Steve Harmon. At first, she is presented as distant from her client, Steve. But later on, we see her loosen up enough to even answer Steve’s question about herself. The distance at first can be explained, as she was just getting to know her client, someone accused of taking part in a grievous crime, someone whom she’d go on to defend within the next few days.

When Steve asks her about herself, she mentions that she has lived in New York virtually all her life- two high schools and college. She says these things in such a way that they come across as things that are not achievements or accomplishments, but Steve thinks they are. That, from her, is modesty.

O’Brien is also an exceptionally brilliant lawyer. She observes a lot and only contributes when there’s the need to. She does not waste words, and she chews on her words before saying them. That is, she thinks things through before making the decision to talk or not. This is evident in the way she questions the witnesses. Some of them, she doesn’t even question at all, and she would just say, “No questions, your honor”.

One time, she sees Steve writing the word ‘Monster’ repeatedly, collects the pencil from him, and cancels them out. Another time, she sees Steve visibly shaking, his head bowed probably in shame just after taking the stand, then she tells him to believe in himself because if he doesn’t, no one would.

We remember her explaining to Steve when he asks her on paper why Briggs has brought up James King’s left-handedness as a form of defense. She explains why to Steve and also tells him that the argument is weak anyway.

O’Brien’s reaction towards the end of the drama (when the verdict is given in favor of Steve) is hard to miss. She moves away when Steve tries to hug her. Perhaps she sees beyond that excitement to something dark and sinister.


She is the lawyer representing the state. The ‘state’ in this instance would be Mr. Nesbitt, a black, middle-aged drugstore owner murdered in his store on December 22 while being robbed. Nesbitt was murdered with his licensed gun. Well, not anymore, for dead people don’t need guns or licenses for that matter.

Petrocelli is a rugged lawyer. No, not physically. I would say she is a tough lawyer. The way she drills witnesses, especially the ones testifying in favor of either of the defendants. She is a brilliant lawyer. Always at loggerheads with Briggs, each time she’s denied entry with ‘objection!’, she looks for a roundabout way to get what she wants. Petrocelli always rephrased her questions until one could object no more.

Her closing argument is so convincing the reader might be surprised the Judge ruled not all in and not all against her favor. While presenting her case, she talks about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, how everyone has a right to these, and how it is so vicious to kill ‘a good man’ going about his business. It is especially her and the Judge that Steve looks at and believes it is all over.

We also see a soft side to her when she jokes just before one of the court sessions, and O’Brien laughs. Perhaps Petrocelli is also funny, perhaps not, and O’Brien only laughed to ease tension. I doubt that. But, we’ll likely never know if or if not Petrocelli who appeared so tough and so serious a character while making her case, was also a clown.


He is the lawyer to James King, a defendant in a felony murder case. He is one lawyer capable of presenting facts in such a way that the people being questioned hear just how stupid their arguments sound. Someone who witnesses another person’s murder goes to eat with said murderer right after the act is committed, and he says it proudly. To him, as long as it wasn’t him who pulled the trigger, every other thing must be excusable.

Briggs points this out and says Bobo is only desperate to get a break from serving for the crimes he has committed, so he should not be trusted. He also points out that the detective did just about everything except the one thing he needed to do—get fingerprints. 

The way he presented his case was almost convincing, but his client’s guilt was stark and just could not be hidden. Briggs tried all he could, and to be able to defend someone as guilty as King (even though they eventually lost the case) means that Briggs is good at what he does. Mostly morally unaware, maybe, but a brilliant lawyer nonetheless. He never lost hope in winning, not that we know of, anyway.

Steve’s Family

Steve’s family is made up of his mother, father, and little brother: Mrs. Harmon, Mr. Harmon, and Jerry, respectively. A good family can be a beacon of hope. Steve’s family was and continues to be. His mother, seeing him in prison, cries severally. It was also his first time seeing his father sob. Those were dark times for him and his family. Mrs. Harmon Once brought his son a Bible and told him to read a passage out loud. We also see them trying to touch Steve’s hands at different times, even though visitors and prisoners were not supposed to make body contact.

He once wished Jerry would stay with him, not in prison, just there with him somehow. While in prison, his parents visit him regularly. One time, Jerry accompanies them, and Steve was so happy that day. But towards the end, we get to know that the distance between father and son grows because of Mr. Harmon’s reservations. Ultimately, love rules in Steve’s family.

Mr. Nesbitt

He is the owner of the drugstore. Even though we never got to meet him because he died, he is the center of the whole case, the one who was murdered three days before Christmas, with his own gun, in his own store in Harlem City. Mr. Nesbitt was a middle-aged black man. The stories about him have it that he was very hard-working and contributed significantly to the growth of his community. His assistant was away when he got shot and drowned in his own blood. The criminals carted away with two cartons of cigarettes. James King is the one accused of murdering him. Bobo, Osvaldo, and Steve are all seen as accomplices in the robbery that led to his death.

Richard Evans

Also known as Bobo, Richard Evans is a gangster who has been convicted so many times. Bobo comes out of prison momentarily to testify. His intention is to escape the 25 years to life or death sentence attached to felony murder. Therefore, he testifies against King and Steve to make the deal. He says it was James King that killed Mr. Nesbitt, and Steve was on the lookout.

He also admits to getting something to snack on with James King right after a man was murdered. That is cold. Bobo is a cold criminal, cold enough to throw himself under the bus by mentioning the inhumane things he had done just to make another person look worse than him. To him, as long as it wasn’t him who pulled the trigger, he can be excused or given a slap on the wrist for watching or participating.

Big, heavy, and described as ugly by the narrator, ‘Bobo’ is a hardened criminal who behaves like he doesn’t have much to lose and everyone might as well go down anyway. It is the only explanation for agreeing to admit to participating in a robbery that led to someone’s murder. That would get him some break, he thinks.

He is hardened to the extent that he unashamedly admits to visiting an eatery for some snacks right after seeing someone get killed in cold blood because he had not eaten all day. Bobo testifies, hoping that the five to ten-year sentence he’s serving (having done three) will be reduced. Breaking and entering, grand theft, taking a car radio, and manslaughter (for fighting a guy that died) are some of his crimes.

James King

He is a sixteen-year-old boy accused of murder felony and later found guilty. Steve tries as much as possible to distance himself from James King. O’Brien thinks it is a good idea to make himself look as different from the criminals as he can. King attempts to talk to Steve in the courtroom once, and Steve avoids him.

He spent the night before the morning of the day the verdict was to be read out in the same cell with Steve for the first time. He initiated a conversation; says he was not afraid. Even a lawyer as good as Briggs was not able to save James King as his guilt was shimmering, so much so that he didn’t take the stand like Steve. This was because he had already denied knowing Bobo, who already identified him as the shooter.


Osvaldo belongs to a gang. One he had no problem fulfilling the requirements for joining. Osvaldo says he participated because Bobo threatened him, that he was afraid of what Bobo would do to him if he refused. Briggs questioned him hard about this- just how he was able to join a gang without fear of fighting a gang member, or how he was comfortable enough cutting a stranger in the face and even beating someone up but suddenly developed fear because of Bobo.

He is a fourteen-year-old boy, slim and with the tattoo of a devil’s head on his left forearm and a tattoo of a dagger on the back of his right hand between the thumb and the forefinger, a thorough gangster. He belongs to Diablos, a gang that requires fighting a member and cutting a stranger in the face to join. He says he was threatened and assigned to distract anyone coming to disrupt the robbery. Furthermore, he insinuates that he wouldn’t have participated if he hadn’t been threatened by Bobo, whom he was very much afraid of.

O’Brien presents his words to him in such a way that how stupid he sounds becomes even more obvious. He’s not afraid to fight a gang member, beat someone up, or cut someone in the face, but he is afraid of Bobo. Please be serious. Anyway, Bobo says that it’s not true that it’d be highly risky to force someone to participate in something like that. On this, I agree with Bobo.

Salvatore Zinzi

He is the second witness. He testifies right after Jose Delgado, the young, articulate storekeeper. Zinzi is nervous, slightly overweight, and wears glasses. He is not as articulate as Delgado or even articulate at all. His nervousness makes him touch his thick glasses over and over as he testifies. He says he engaged in a conversation with Wendell Bolden who gave him some sort of lead to the case and that was when he decided to go to Detective Gluck, clearly desperate for a break. In an attempt to give his own account, he presents himself as very desperate to get a break (a shorter sentence for the crimes he committed) and get out of prison to escape being sexually harassed.

The Judge

This one usually engages in discussions with the people in the courtroom. He talked with the stenographer, the lawyers, and the court officers about everyday things. He is a black man, presented as more jovial than uptight. He also has a slim build. There wasn’t really much presented about him to earn him paragraphs.


Who is the protagonist in ‘Monster?’

The protagonist in ‘Monster’ is Steve Harmon, a fourteen-year-old boy who finds himself roped in a felony murder case and now has to fight to get out of jail. It is his imaginary camera we follow all through the trial and even after.

Who is Petrocelli?

Petrocelli is the prosecutor, the lawyer representing the state, and the one who in the bid to solve the felony murder case goes to any length, including inviting criminals to testify against the defendants, Steve Harmon and James King.

How would you describe Richard Evans (Bobo) from ‘Monster?’

Richard Evans, also known as Bobo, is a gangster with an unignorable crime record. Arrested for committing a myriad of crimes, he testifies, hoping to get a break from doing some time for his crimes.

Who is the antagonist in ‘Monster?’

The antagonist in ‘Monster’ is the prosecutor. Petrocelli is the prosecutor, the lawyer representing the state. Collectively, they antagonize and indict Steve Harmon, the protagonist.

Chioma Julie
About Chioma Julie
Chioma is a graduate of Mass Communication. With an unwavering love for music, movies and books, sometimes, she also writes to unwind.
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