The novel is divided into two distinct parts. The first part traces the fate of the family of a Bermuda planter, Charles Montfort, who leaves Bermuda in the 1790’s with his wife, children, and slaves to avoid compliance with a British law ordering him to free his slaves. He moves to North Carolina, where he soon incurs the jealousy of Anson Pollack, who has Montfort murdered after spreading the rumor that Montfort’s wife is black. She commits suicide, and the Montfort children are remanded into slavery; one son, Charles, Jr., is purchased and taken to England by a British visitor, and the other, Jesse, escapes to New Hampshire, where he grows up and eventually marries a black woman.
The second and main part of the novel traces the fate of one strand of Jesse’s family, the Smiths, a hundred years later. Mrs. Smith, a widow, runs a boardinghouse in Boston. Her son, Will, and daughter, Dora, live with her. Her house is a center for the social and political meetings of the young friends of her children. The plot traces them in their efforts to fulfill their goals in marriage and career. Will Smith is an African American civil rights activist. He is a philosopher whose views on politics and education resemble those of W. E. B. Du Bois. Will is a well-known and highly respected black leader in his community. He falls in love with Sappho Clark, one of the boarders in his mother’s roominghouse. When she leaves him rather than expose him to marriage with a woman of her background, he continues to think of her and seeks her until they are accidentally reunited in New Orleans. His love and devotion finally overcome her hesitation, and they are married.
Sappho Clark is a beautiful mulatto woman. Sappho had been born Mabelle Beaubean to a wealthy New Orleans family of multiracial ancestry. At the age of fifteen, Mabelle is abducted by a white uncle and brought to a house of prostitution. She is rescued...
(The entire section is 786 words.)