Paul, the narrator and protagonist of The Land, is black, according to the post-Civil War South, but he looks white. He struggles with issues of racial identity, personal independence, brotherhood, and freedom. The Land traces Paul's life from one of the first moments he realizes the significance of his African-American background, to the moment when he achieves his dream and establishes himself as an owner of 200 acres. Leading up to this accomplishment, Paul endures many trials and suffers almost unbearable losses. At first, Paul grows up completely certain of his white family's love and fidelity—his father raises him on more or less equal footing with his three white brothers. As Paul comes of age, however, he realizes that he and his brothers can never exist in the same world and enjoy the same rights and privileges. When Paul's brother Robert abuses his privilege at Paul's expense, Paul realizes that he cannot call his white family his own. In response, Paul begins to cultivate a deep, lifelong, brother-like relationship with Mitchell Thomas, a black boy who lives on the plantation. Together, the two young men face the challenges of living in a society built to beat them down, but they persevere as they enter manhood. The two remain faithful to each other and to their dreams. Through their friendship, Paul is able to realize not only his dream of owning land, but also his dream of sharing such a deep and unshakeable bond with another human being.
First Paul's tormentor and later Paul's closest friend, Mitchell is a fiery, impulsive, charismatic man who is not afraid to fly in the face of authority. When they are boys, Mitchell beats on Paul, both because Paul represents white authority and because he wants to communicate to Paul that eventually, he will be betrayed by white authority. Mitchell's father beats him excessively, and consequently, Mitchell is belligerent and a hardened fighter. Once Mitchell and Paul become friends, however, Mitchell is uncompromisingly loyal and devoted to Paul. Unlike Paul, Mitchell has no compunctions about acting recklessly to procure what he deems he deserves or to do what he sees fit. Twice in the course of the novel, his acts of flagrant, though warranted, disrespect toward whites put Paul and Mitchell in grave danger. Though Mitchell spends much of his young manhood convinced that he wants to remain free and unfettered, he falls in love with Caroline Perry and remains as devoted to her as he is to Paul.
Paul's father is a white plantation owner and former slave owner who makes good-faith efforts to be fair to the blacks who live on his land. He has a particularly liberal attitude toward his black family. He raises his black children on an equal footing with his white children, although he takes care not to overturn custom completely: his black children read, but they do not attend school; his black children eat at his table, but they eat in the kitchen when company arrives. Edward tries to prepare his black children for the lives they will lead off the plantation, and consequently, he begins to hold them accountable for their actions as blacks and not necessarily as equals in his household. To some extent, this is difficult for the fair-minded Mr. Logan. At the same time, he is a product of the mores of his times: he did not hesitate to enter into a sexual relationship with Paul's mother, his black slave. Mr. Logan also displays racist tendencies at a horse fair in east Texas, when he does not acknowledge Paul as the son of his blood. Paul's father wants what is best for his son, and on his deathbed he only finds peace after he sees Paul once again.
Paul's brother and childhood companion, Robert, is even-tempered, gentle, and timorous. He is afraid of horses and does not have a natural way with land and animals, but he is bright and sweet-tempered. In the early parts of the novel, Paul stands up for Robert. Robert expresses great distress when their father sends the two boys to different schools, and he expresses his wish that the two were full brothers. As Robert grows into adolescence, however, and spends the majority of his time with his peers at boarding school, Robert's sweet, unbiased worldview begins to unravel. He becomes ashamed and angry when Paul speaks to him as an equal in front of his white friends, and he betrays Paul to their father. Robert is troubled by this betrayal but retains his growing conviction that he is entitled to greater respect and authority than Paul. Robert appears in Paul's adult life only once, and though the two talk congenially, they never regain the bond they once held as children.
First Mitchell's and later Paul's wife, Caroline is sassy, stubborn, and opinionated. She acts decisively and with conviction according to her beliefs and principles. Caroline is understanding, especially when she explains her mother's coldness to Paul and comforts a boy whom others have been teasing. She does not put up with nonsense, and she even strikes a girl who accuses her of stealing her man and stubbornly refuses to leave the forty acres after Mitchell is killed. Caroline takes challenges or losses in stride: she works diligently and selflessly on the forty acres, and though she mourns Mitchell's death, she perseveres with fortitude, tenaciously clinging to life and its fleeting joys.
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