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Warriors Don’t Cry

Melba Patillo Beals

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Melba Patillo Beals

Over the course of Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba transitions from a normal teenage girl to a hardened warrior. When she starts school at Central High School, she has no idea of the hardships she will face. With Grandma India’s help, Melba learns to give up all of the things that other teenagers care about—friends, free time, boyfriends and girlfriends, and extracurricular activities—and instead focuses on the larger issue of integration. Melba quickly learns that she will not have a normal high school experience. What she will have is the knowledge that she has fought on the right side, and that she has, according to Grandma India, fought God’s fight.

By the end of her time at Central, Melba has given up on friends and has broken up with her boyfriend, Vince. She has a single purpose: to survive to the end of the year, and to prove to the segregationists that she can’t be beaten. When Melba is at Central, she has to assume an almost superhuman demeanor. When people slap her or spit on her, she learns to say “thank you” and not fight back. The religion Melba relies on so heavily makes her seem even more saintlike, which alienates many people who want to be friends with her. But by the end of her year at Central, it is quite clear that Melba is an entirely different person than the pretty young girl who started there. She has replaced her innocence with a sense of purpose. This experience is why she eventually goes into journalism: she feels that were it not for the attention of the press, she would never have been admitted to Central High School. She sees her work as a journalist as an extension of that fight. Because of her experience at Central, the adult Melba finds she can’t back away from a fight.

Grandma India

Grandma India acts as Melba’s steely backbone during her struggle to integrate Central High School. Every time Melba considers abandoning the struggle, Grandma India encourages her to persist. Grandma India fortifies Melba with faith and stubbornness, and it is Grandma India who tells Melba that God’s warriors don’t cry. This is the first introduction that Melba has to the idea that in order to successfully integrate into the school, she will need to become more than a regular teenager. Because Grandma India is deeply religious, she is able to provide Melba with a sense of purpose. She reminds Melba that she is a child of God and that the opinion of her fellow teenagers doesn’t matter as long as God loves her. Grandma India always assures Melba that God approves of what she is doing.

Grandma India repeatedly shows Melba that she is not afraid to stand up to white people when they are doing something wrong. She also shows Melba that there are peaceful, respectful ways of standing up to the white people. Melba is thus able to avoid the provocations of Andy and his friend and avoid the temptation to fight back. When Grandma India dies during what would have been Melba’s second year at Central (had Faubus not shut down the schools), it is as though Melba has lost her will to fight. Melba moves to California to live in a more accepting community. Grandma India is the living embodiment of Melba’s strength; when she dies, Melba has to learn how to find that strength inside herself.


The son of a prominent white family, Link is the white student who helps Melba escape time and time again from the violent segregationists who want to kill her. His father is pro-segregation but appalled by the attacks on black teenagers and children. Though Link is popular and bound for success in the white world, he helps Melba. In spite of his racist family, Link has a different perspective on black people because of his close relationship with Nana Healey. Nana Healey is black, and Link loves her and resents the treatment she receives from his parents now that she no longer works for them. Because he knows that Nana Healey is a good and loving person, he can imagine that other black people might be good and loving as well. Link is the only white student who shows Melba any kindness, and he is the only white person she comes to trust during her time at Central High School.

Though Link undermines the efforts of the violent segregationists, he is never able to openly defy them and declare his friendship with Melba. Link wants to help Melba, but he is fearful of becoming an outsider. While Melba puts aside those fears in order to do something for the greater good, Link hides behind them. He still helps Melba, but he does it in secret. His secretive attitude about their relationship is in part why Melba never seems to return Link’s romantic feelings. When he asks her to flee to the North and escape the angry white people, Melba feels he is asking her to give up. What is most important to Melba at this time is proving that she cannot be defeated by the anger and hatred of the segregationists. Because Link is just a normal teenager, and because everything has come relatively easy for him, he will never understand this.

More Help

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by SelfMadeGod76, August 12, 2012

On the fist day all the kidare rushed outthrough a secre passage due to danger


11 out of 38 people found this helpful

Difference between Segregation and Integration

by NonReader1328, September 17, 2013

According to the book what is the difference between Segregation and Integration.


19 out of 29 people found this helpful

Question about Melba:

by tgerot179, July 23, 2014

When Beals speaks about Little Rock Central High School, what are some of the ways she refers to the school?

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