The narrator of the story. Mama describes herself as a big-boned woman with hands that are rough from years of physical labor. She wears overalls and has been both mother and father to her two daughters. Poor and uneducated, she was not given the opportunity to break out of her rural life. A loving mother, her frank, open nature prevents her from deluding herself when it comes to her daughters’ weaknesses. Mama has a strong understanding of her heritage and won’t allow Dee to take the family quilts.
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The shy, retiring daughter who lives with Mama. Burned in a house fire as a young girl, Maggie lacks confidence and shuffles when she walks, often fleeing or hanging in the background when there are other people around, unable to make eye contact. She is good-hearted, kind, and dutiful. Rather than anger her intimidating sister, she is willing to let Dee have the quilts that had originally been promised to her.
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Mama’s older daughter, who has renamed herself Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Dee wears a brightly colored, yellow-and-orange, ankle-length dress that is inappropriate for the warm weather. Her hair stands up straight on top and is bordered by two long pigtails that hang down in back. Dee is educated, worldly, and deeply determined, not generally allowing her desires to be thwarted. When Mama won’t let her have the quilts to display, she becomes furious. She claims that Mama and Maggie don’t understand their heritage, but she is the one overlooking the important aspects of her family history.
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Dee’s boyfriend or, possibly, husband. Hakim-a-barber is a Black Muslim whom Mama humorously refers to as Asalamalakim, the Arab greeting he offers them, meaning “peace be with you.” An innocuous presence, he is a short and stocky, with waist-length hair and a long, bushy beard. His desire to make a good first impression makes him seem awkward. He makes Maggie uncomfortable by forcing his attention and greetings on her.