Between the World and Me

Characters

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Characters Ta-Nehisi Coates

As the author, Coates is the main character, and he is the only character whose thoughts the reader has direct insight into. Coates is a very dynamic and intellectual person. His viewpoints and moral schema change several times over the course of his life. Through the letter to his son, the reader sees his world open farther and farther from childhood, to university, to partnership and fatherhood, to travel and a thriving career. As the author, he allows an unusually vulnerable insight into his mind. This vulnerability is furthered by the fact that he is not trying to talk to the reader. Instead, he is speaking directly to his son, Samori. In so doing, Coates has no need to sugarcoat events or to placate an audience. This unique personal letter-based approach allows him to express views that could be offensive to white readers. If the letter were addressed to white Americans, they might feel attacked and put the text down. But writing to his son provides a degree of separation that may translate into getting white people to listen with some degree of compassion, as parenthood is a common human experience. Coates does not withhold thoughts that he believes Samori needs to know.

One of Coates’ most important character traits is his willingness to let others challenge his ideas. For this, Coates likely has his parents to thank. Between his mother teaching him to read at a young age and his father providing plentiful books, Coates was consistently exposed to different viewpoints. Curiosity is another of Coates’ defining traits. His intense curiosity rendered him bored with the mundanity of school and likely led to his troubles both in grade school and at Howard University. Coates left Howard without a degree but having read many books because he was interested in satiating his curiosity more than taking part in organized classes. He also found his passion for journalism, which enabled him to ask questions that mattered to him. Coates demonstrates that, to him, education is about the quest for knowledge, not passing classes. Overall, he provides an array of thoughts that are at once honest and angry, direct and eloquent.