Grace is the backbone of her family. Both her mother and her sister, Caroline, depend on and confide in her, and she negotiates between the traditional Haitian values of her mother and Caroline’s American independence. Grace wants to take care of her family and make them proud. She sees the best in people and trusts them to make their own decisions, so she’s supportive of both Caroline’s engagement and her mother’s inability to break her ties to Haiti. Yet Grace’s competent negotiations reveal her own personal difficulty: she feels neither completely Haitian nor completely American. She still feels a strong connection to Haiti, but she feels guilty for being the reason her parents had to leave. She feels oppressed by the culture she has inherited, which makes her rebel against her mother’s superstition. Grace is still searching for her place in the world. Although she doesn’t realize it, she’s jealous of Caroline for making a new place for herself in her own family. Grace feels betrayed when Caroline leaves home for good. She is terrified of change and loss and doesn’t want to forget her past. Eventually, her new passport gives her a sense of belonging. As a true American, she feels secure enough to embrace the Haitian traditions she once resisted by helping her mother make bone soup.
Josephine knows well the painful legacy she has inherited. Her mother had to choose whether to save Josephine’s life or try to save her grandmother’s, so Josephine’s birth depended on her grandmother’s death. She feels a bond with her grandmother and her mother as a result of the rituals her mother made her take part in at Massacre River, even though she has never understood them. Josephine is awed by her mother’s rituals and stories, and she has absorbed them more than she realizes. When Jacqueline visits her, Josephine asks questions that only a fellow performer of the rituals would understand. Despite the strength this tradition gives her, Josephine feels overwhelmed by the depressing world around her and helpless to change it. She doesn’t know how to connect with her mother, perhaps because she is ashamed of her inability to help her. She attempts to be strong by hiding her profound sorrow. Though she cannot express it, Josephine highly values her relationship with her mother and the tradition of which she is part.
Lamort, naïve and uneducated, doesn’t worry too much about her own well-being because she has a low sense of self-worth. Her grandmother blames her for her mother’s death and is never satisfied with her behavior. Lamort never had a mother, and she is desperate for approval—from her grandmother, Raymond, Emilie, or anyone else. She tries to please her grandmother by living up to her standards of propriety and wishes she could be more experienced and intelligent. She looks up to independent women like Emilie and feels important when she can help them, so she does so eagerly, even when serious risk is involved. Lamort accepts the violent, dangerous state of her world, so courage comes easily to her. She thinks nothing of bravely coming up with excuses to protect Emilie from Toto, the soldier who stops them when they try to go to the churchyard. Emilie’s compliments and dependence on Lamort encourage Lamort to be brave in her personal life as well, and their adventure together empowers her to stand up to her grandmother.
Princesse is modest, but she has a strong sense of self-confidence. She is unfazed by the advances of the drunk watching the cockfights and even humors him when he flirts with her. She thinks Catherine paints her because she’s willing to be naked and not because she’s particularly beautiful, but this doesn’t bother her. Princesse admires Catherine and her sophistication, but she can also be childlike and playful. She fears negative attention and won’t drink the rum Catherine offers her, but she doesn’t believe in society’s standards of propriety. Eventually, however, she feels daring enough to drink a little rum. Princesse is fascinated by the world and excited to learn about it. Though Princesse’s standard of living is probably not much better than that of the protagonists in the other stories, she notices the beauty around her and wants to capture it. She is willing to dedicate herself entirely to art, as she shows when she “draws” on her undershirt with her own blood. Princesse is ambitious and inspired, and Catherine’s painting of her makes her feel special for her part in its creation.
Marie has a childlike ignorance that, paired with her great disappointment with life, encourages her to exist in a fantasy world, out of touch with reality. When she couldn’t take her miscarriages and her husband’s cheating any longer, she escaped her village life for the city. When her life as a maid fails to satisfy her, she escapes into a world where the dead baby she finds is her living daughter and the household where she works is her own home. Nothing in the world matters to her, and the only people she feels close to are the imagined ghosts of her dead mother and ancestors. She wants to die so she can join them. Marie sees the real world as a cruel place and feels worthless because of her inability to have a child and continue her ancestral line. Marie is religious and superstitious. She bitterly resents her employers for their comfortable lifestyle and their dismissal of her as an ignorant peasant. She feels anonymous and knows that no one loves her, which gives her an overwhelming sense of despair.