An educated young man who opposes the Haitian government. The male narrator has no hope for the future and worries he will never again see the female narrator, whom he loves. He’s upset by the suffering he sees around him, but he’s so used to it that he no longer expresses pain. In the end, he gives in to death.
A young woman very much in love. The female narrator clings to the hope that the male narrator is alive and they will somehow be reunited. She does not openly defy her father, though she hates him for disapproving of her lover. She’s angry at the world for preventing her love, but she’s powerless to do anything about it.
The female narrator’s father. Papa is controlling but only because he wants what is best for his family, and he feels guilty when he makes them unhappy. He refuses to endanger his family for the sake of others in need.
The pregnant teenager in the male narrator’s boat. Célianne is in shock from the experiences she had with the macoutes, who forced her brother to rape their mother and then raped her. When her baby dies, she finally gives in to her despair.
The female narrator’s mother. Manman has high ideals about love and responsibility and is horrified when she must listen helplessly to her neighbor’s murder.
A young woman whose mother is in prison. Josephine is sad and confused about the rumors about her mother. She doesn’t know how to express her love for her mother and can never talk when she visits her, though she feels like crying. When her mother dies, she finally understands why she paid tribute to her grandmother in such strange ways and embraces the tradition herself.
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Josephine’s mother, imprisoned for being a witch. Manman was traumatized when she saw her own mother murdered, but she had the strength to save Josephine by fleeing Dominica. Manman tries to explain her behavior but always cryptically. She suffers in prison and takes comfort in Josephine’s visits, but she resents Josephine’s silence.
A woman who lost her mother. Jacqueline participates in the same rituals Manman did, which makes Josephine feel close to her. Jacqueline’s actions encourage Josephine to embrace her mother’s traditions.
A poor man working to feed his family. Guy is frustrated with his inability to give his family security and ashamed of the menial work he does. He dreams of starting over. Guy loves Lili and is proud of Little Guy, but they remind him of his failure. He reveals the depth of his despair when he kills himself.
A wife who must frequently make ends meet. Lili is strong and resourceful and tries to keep her family happy. She derives genuine happiness from their success and manages to be content with what she has. She’s afraid of Guy’s ambitions, but she’s cautiously hopeful for Little Guy’s future.
A young boy chosen to play the revolutionary Boukman at school. Little Guy is proud to share this achievement with his parents, whom he admires. He’s extremely dedicated and gets painfully nervous about making a mistake. Little Guy reveals his independence when he mourns Guy with a tearful recitation of the lines Guy was so proud of.
A young single mother and prostitute. The narrator hates her job but needs it to support her son. She makes up lies about angels to protect him and wants to believe them herself. She is totally enamored of her son, in an almost sexual way. She convinces herself that women who work during the day lack her independence.
The daughter of Josephine from “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” and a maid. Marie has suffered many miscarriages and left a cheating husband. She is so desperate for love that she imagines a dead baby to be alive and tells it all her disappointments. She imagines her female ancestors watching over her, silently pressuring her to continue the family line.
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A teenage girl who defies her grandmother by sneaking out to take foreigners, usually journalists, to the cemetery. Lamort is virtuous when avoiding Raymond’s advances, but she resents her grandmother for holding her mother’s death against her. She is independent and feels important when she can help people like Emilie.
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An American journalist who is searching for her mother and who supported the old government. Emilie is kind to Lamort but angry at the government that killed her mother, and she is unable to hide her hatred. Emilie embodies the independent woman for Lamort and gives her the courage to assert herself.
Lamort’s grandmother, who dictates how she should act. Lamort’s grandmother says people are judged by their actions and constantly reminds Lamort to be careful. She disapproves of Emilie’s independence and blames Lamort for her mother’s death.
A young soldier who switched alliances when the new government came to power. Raymond brags about his adventures as a soldier to impress Lamort. He protects Lamort when he has to, but he doesn’t really care for her.
A young student who poses nude for a foreign artist. Princesse wants to keep her actions secret from the town, but she’s comfortable in her own skin. She is fascinated by Catherine’s views on art, and she’s sensitive to the beauty around her. She hopes to create beauty herself someday.
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A painter who teaches Princesse about art and life. Catherine cares about Princesse, but she also imposes her strong ideas about the world on her. Catherine is stubborn, and her drinking suggests that she doesn’t care about social norms.
A young Haitian woman who works in New York’s Midtown. Suzette thinks of her mother as a bit of a nag and is shocked to find that there are things she doesn’t know about her. However, Suzette does love her mother, and she wants her approval even though she ignores her criticisms.
A Haitian immigrant who is very set in her ways. Suzette’s mother wants Suzette to be like her and frequently criticizes her. She dreams about winning the lottery but doesn’t play it, and she talks about Haiti but cannot face its suffering by visiting. Suzette’s mother is ashamed of her menial job.
A Haitian immigrant in her mid-twenties who just became an American citizen. Grace, whose real name is Gracina, doesn’t feel fully part of either Haitian or American culture. She is very close to both her sister and her mother and tries to defend each against the other’s frustrations. Family is all she really has, so although she wants Caroline to be happy, she cannot help but be sad that Caroline is leaving.
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Grace and Caroline’s mother. Ma maintains her Haitian traditions and beliefs twenty-five years after leaving. Ma is sad to see Caroline with a non-Haitian because the marriage represents the end of Haitian culture in their family. She’s ashamed that her husband stopped loving her and that she has nothing but her daughters, who will leave her.
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A young Haitian-American woman about to get married. Caroline is loving but independent and embraces the freedoms of America while rejecting her mother’s traditional Haitian expectations. Caroline acts confident but feels a hidden insecurity, especially about her missing forearm.
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A Bahamian janitor engaged to Caroline. Eric is a bit slow but very kind, and he truly cares about Caroline. He even tries to please her impossible mother.