The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
If, as A. C. Bradley once said, waste is the single most important characteristic of tragedy, then many of the characters in All-Bright Court must be considered tragic. Despite their own best efforts, these characters finally fail.
Samuel Taylor’s dream is to feel like a real man, respected by others and, even more important, by himself. In the South, he is treated as an inferior. In the North, he believes that things will be different. For years, Samuel continues to struggle, clinging to his sense of self-worth. With each threat to his income, however, Samuel becomes less confident, until at last he lives not with hope but with the bitter knowledge that his dream of equality will never be fulfilled. Courageously, he encourages his children to leave the African American community, where they will have no more opportunities than he has had, and to move into the white world, even though he realizes that as they do so, they will inevitably move away from their parents.
Mary Kate and Venita both suffer not only as African Americans but also as women. Because of their limited experience, they know no other route to success than to fulfill the conventional roles of wives and mothers. Because they have no source of information, they do not know that medical help exists that could alleviate the problems that afflict them both. Mary Kate, therefore, continues to bear one child after another, assuming that she has no choice; when Venita does not become pregnant, she feels that it is somehow her fault. Like Samuel, both Mary Kate and Venita are admirable and even heroic characters. They struggle, often vainly, to make things better for others, even though they themselves increasingly feel betrayed by life.
Mikey Taylor seems to be the only successful character in the novel. He is fortunate: He is intelligent, and he has parents who encourage him while systematically imbuing him with their own high moral and ethical standards....
(The entire section is 802 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Samuel Taylor, an African American man from Tupelo, Mississippi, who goes north in search of personal freedom and economic betterment. Samuel is a hardworking man, a devoted husband, and a loving father. When he finally admits to himself that his own dreams will never come true, he transfers his hopes to his children.
Mary Kate Bell Taylor
Mary Kate Bell Taylor, Samuel’s wife, also from Tupelo. The daughter of a cook who was a friend and adviser to Samuel, Mary Kate is a caring, dependable person whose love for her husband enables him to face his disappointments. Nevertheless, in the early years of the marriage, when she is physically exhausted from childbearing, trapped in the house, and desperately lonely, Mary Kate very nearly has a mental breakdown. She is saved by her friendship with Venita Reed.
Michael (Mikey) Taylor
Michael (Mikey) Taylor, their oldest son. Intelligent like both of his parents, he has the benefit of their tutelage and their example. From them, he absorbs high standards of conduct, along with compassion toward the less fortunate. After he is sent to Essex Academy, a school primarily for privileged whites, Mikey finds it hard to relate to the people of All-Bright Court and even to his family.
Venita Reed, a young woman from Mississippi who is Mary Kate’s neighbor in All-Bright Court. Heartsick over her failure to bear children, Venita retreats into herself, emerging only when Mary Kate becomes her friend. Twice Venita invests her emotions in children placed in her care, but when she loses both of them, she again retreats, losing contact even with her husband.
Moses Reed, Venita’s husband, a hardworking, decent man who loves his wife but is unable to comprehend the depth of her unhappiness. Moses’ easygoing, uncomplaining ways cause Samuel to dismiss him contemptuously as an “Uncle Tom.” After many years, Moses finally confronts Samuel and forces him to admit how similar the two men and their lives really are. As a result, Moses and Samuel become friends.