protagonist and narrator of the novel, an elementary school teacher
in his mid-twenties. Grant is intelligent and willful, but also
somewhat hypocritical and depressed. A life spent in a segregated,
racist community has made him bitter. He has no faith in himself,
his society, or his church. He does not believe anything will ever
change and thinks escape is the only option. He fears committing
himself to a fight he cannot win. This defeatist attitude makes
him shun responsibility, and he resents Tante Lou and Miss Emma
for forcing him to help Jefferson. Over the course of the novel,
however, he learns to accept responsibility for his own life, for
his relations with other people, and for his role as an educator
and agent of change in his needy community.
in-depth analysis of Grant Wiggins.
sincere, sensitive, young black man of below-average intelligence.
When his lawyer calls him a “hog,” Jefferson takes the insult to
heart and begins to consider himself powerless in the white-dominated society.
He becomes sullen and withdrawn, accepting a living death and therefore
becoming a dark symbol of his oppressed people. Grant attempts to
heal Jefferson’s pain. He believes that Jefferson can stop symbolizing the
troubles of the black community and start symbolizing positive change.
in-depth analysis of Jefferson.
aunt, and a deeply religious woman. Tante Lou resents Grant’s cynical
atheism, perhaps because she feels it reflects badly on the way
she raised him. Tante Lou took in Grant when his parents moved away
and became a mother figure to him. Although she lives a troubled
life under a harsh, racist system, she finds freedom for her soul
in the church, her family, her dignity, and her pride.
in-depth analysis of Tante Lou.
godmother. Miss Emma possesses great faith in God. After hearing
Jefferson’s lawyer call Jefferson a hog, she becomes obsessed with
ensuring that Jefferson dies “like a man.” Miss Emma expresses her
emotions freely and demonstrates her strength and resolve during
Jefferson’s trial and incarceration.
- The fiery, self-righteous leader of the black quarter’s
religious community, and Grant’s primary foil in the novel. Reverend
Ambrose believes that true faith in God shields the believer against
oppression. Ambrose believes that Grant is foolish for forsaking
his religion and that Grant will have a sinful influence on Jefferson.
Jefferson connects only with Grant, and the Reverend cannot convince
Grant to attempt to save Jefferson’s soul. In his conversations
with Grant, the Reverend reveals his belief that lying is a necessary component
of survival, especially for Southern blacks struggling to live.
beautiful, loving, and intelligent girlfriend. Vivian is a schoolteacher
at the black Catholic school in Bayonne. She is married and has
two children, but is in the process of divorcing her husband. She
wants to hide her relationship with Grant for fear her husband will use
it to justify taking the children away from her. She distrusts Grant
because, in his self-centered way, he pressures her to forsake her
- Grant’s primary school teacher and predecessor as
the quarter’s schoolteacher. Antoine dies before the events in the
novel begin, but his influence on Grant is felt throughout the novel.
His defeated, resentful cynicism contributed to
authoritarian man who runs the prison in Bayonne. Guidry resents
anyone who trespasses on his domain, especially blacks like Grant
and Miss Emma. He provides blacks with a modicum of freedom and opportunity
while maintaining an overarching, white authoritarian superstructure.
sheriff’s deputy at the Bayonne jail, he is the only white in the
novel who truly sympathizes with the black struggle in the South.
stubborn white man with a sense of duty, he owns the plantation
where Grant spent his childhood. Pichot is not a bad man, but he
enjoys his position of power in the quarter. He cherishes the status
quo because it allows him to feel superior to people. Like many
of his white peers, he causes harm simply by his unwillingness to
Mr. Joseph Morgan
- The white superintendent of schools. Like Pichot,
Dr. Joseph knowingly maintains the status quo: black oppression
under a fundamentally racist system. A hypocrite, Mr. Joseph presents
a façade of benevolence, but he actually believes that although black
children should receive a small amount of religious and patriotic
education, they should primarily work the fields as farm hands.