Vivian is Grant’s devoted girlfriend, serving as both a voice of reason and a source of comfort for him throughout the novel. She is by his side through every step of Jefferson’s trial and execution, and she seeks to remind him of the good he is doing by getting involved. Also a schoolteacher, Vivian understands the importance of community involvement and believes that individuals have the power to enact positive change in the world around them. This optimistic outlook adds to the overall sense that she is an ideal woman, an identity which Grant emphasizes when he explains that “every bit of her [is] perfect.” Not only is she beautiful, she also has a good heart and a resilient spirit. Tante Lou, who is initially skeptical of Vivian because of how much time Grant spends with her, even acknowledges the “quality” she possesses and accepts her presence in her nephew’s life. 

Beneath this outward appearance of perfection, however, is a woman who has struggled to overcome both personal and social obstacles to her happiness. Vivian’s seemingly unending empathy stems from her own experiences with loss and racial politics, and throughout the novel, she tries to help Grant reframe his perspective in the more productive way that she has. Having a lighter complexion, Vivian’s family was furious when she married a man with dark skin during her time at Xavier University. They disown her because of who she loves, forcing her to create a new life for herself without their support. Vivian’s husband also leaves her and their two young children, and she fears that he will take the children away from her after they divorce. Despite all of this hardship, Vivian believes that she has a moral obligation to uplift others and do right by her community. This perspective is what ultimately drives her to push Grant toward helping Jefferson, and the emotional investment she shows in the case emphasizes her selfless nature.

As much as Vivian tries to gently guide Grant toward the idea that he can find meaning in his small-town life, his cynicism causes small spats between them and leads to a larger outburst near the end of the novel. Vivian and Grant’s relationship is rather one-sided despite the mutual love they have for one another. Grant takes advantage of her moral strength and steady presence, but he does little to support her in return. He continually pushes back against Vivian’s assertions about the importance of staying in Bayonne, for example, without seeming to genuinely hear and consider what she has to say. These small moments of tension ultimately erupt when Vivian discovers that Grant engaged in a bar fight with men speaking ill of Jefferson, an act which she views as a betrayal of the goodness they are trying to create in their community. With Grant’s self-centered behavior in mind, Vivian challenges him to answer what love truly means. She views love as a willingness to make sacrifices for someone, and she suggests that he has done a poor job of showing that he loves her in this way. As much as this scene serves as a wake-up call for Grant, it also highlights Vivian’s strength as an individual and her unwillingness to compromise her moral code of conduct.