The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Although not the title character, Jackson Bradley seems to be the protagonist of Catherine Carmier. He is certainly the most powerful active force in the novel, the character whose desires and actions disturb the static community in which the novel is set.
Jackson is defined in part by the desires of other characters as those desires intersect with his. Charlotte’s desire, for example, is that Jackson will settle down and teach school. For Charlotte, Jackson represents the future—but the future, for Charlotte, means essentially a continuation of what has been. Because Charlotte is a sympathetic character, she can suggest the value of what Jackson is rejecting. For a seeker such as Jackson, however, Charlotte’s dream would be a surrender. Mary Louise’s desire is that Jackson will return her unselfish love (she clearly distinguishes between love and possession), but to Jackson, that too would mean surrendering the freedom his nature demands. Jackson also feels alienated from his old friend Brother, in part because Brother seems, to Jackson, to be disturbingly free of desire. In cutting himself off from his past, however, Jackson has not succeeded in liberating himself; he suffers from a sense of aimless drift.
Madame Bayonne does not play an active role in the novel. Strictly speaking, she makes nothing happen. Her function is to allow Jackson to articulate his feelings, and she acts as a kind of ironic chorus, commenting on the...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Jackson is a character cut adrift from his roots, seeking to find himself. His education has put his earlier life in a sophisticated perspective that distances him from his former friends, and he resists a sympathetic engagement in their community from fears of being dragged down into a miasma of despair. He plans to leave, to continue the search for self in a world that has already scarred him with some racial bitterness. Before leaving, however, he must confront two strong adversaries.
The first is Aunt Charlotte. She has spun a moral web from which Jefferson must free himself at the cost of seeming to be a selfish ingrate. She is his patroness, and although he loves her, he knows he must disappoint her. She is a simple, strong-willed woman with a deep, abiding faith, and it is her goodness and moral rectitude that make Jefferson feel like an apostate in his darker moments. She is also the first adversary in Jackson’s personal rite of passage.
The other iron-willed character is Raoul Carmier, Jackson’s rival for Catherine’s love and loyalty. He represents a very different sort of challenge. A proud, unyielding man, Raoul is also an imposing blocking figure. He dominates his world, made narrow by his hatred for whites and blacks alike. He treats his wife, Della, like a household servant, elevating Catherine, his favorite, to surrogate spouse. For her part, Catherine is drawn to Raoul’s strength, while he, from selfish designs, has cut...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jackson Bradley, a searcher who measures people, places, and events by whether they will contribute to his search or impede it. Returning to Louisiana after completing his college education in California, he no longer feels at home in the rural community of his origins.
Catherine Carmier, a woman divided between her need to fulfill herself as an individual and her powerful attachment to her family, especially to her father. Her relationship with her father has a troubling intensity; she is not sure that she could love any other man as much as she loves him.
Raoul Carmier, a hard, determined man. His extremely light skin has created in him a sense of distance from his darker-skinned neighbors without creating any compensatory sense of closeness to white people. He lives in a kind of self-imposed isolation from the community and insists that his wife and daughter share it with him. His hardness is seen in a more positive light when he stands up to the Cajuns after almost everyone else has surrendered.
Charlotte, Jackson’s aunt, sees in him not only the young man she has helped to rear but also the main hope for the future of the community. Her emotional investment in him blinds her to his needs as a separate human being.
Della, Raoul’s wife, emotionally estranged from her husband ever since the birth of her son Mark, whose dark skin revealed that Raoul could not be the father. Recognizing her husband’s obsession with Catherine, Della waits for her moment, when she can take her rightful place as Raoul’s true wife.
Madame Bayonne, Jackson’s former schoolteacher, who has a freedom of mind that allows her to understand Jackson’s questing nature at the same time that she sees deeply into the powerful emotional entanglements of the local community. Her role is that of confidante to Jackson and of ironic and compassionate commentator on the action.