The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Hopkins has made excellent use of the social and historical climate of her day in delineating her characters. In her effort to portray the “contending forces” (“conservatism, lack of brotherly affiliation, lack of energy for the right and the power of the almighty dollar”) that pull African Americans away from their focus on bettering the situation of their people, Hopkins has created characters that are rooted in history and developed by her imagination.

Two of her major characters are based on two of the most famous African Americans of the period, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Like Du Bois, Will Smith is a highly educated and respected philosopher whose lifetime dedication is to helping his people achieve intellectual equality with whites. He is outspoken and forthright and does not hesitate to get involved in philosophical debates with his brother-in-law, Arthur Lewis, who is modeled on Washington. Like Washington, Lewis is the president of an agricultural and technical school in the South, and he hopes to better the situation of his people by providing them with practical education. Through the dialogue between the two men, Hopkins illustrates the importance of both philosophies of education; she portrays them as complementing rather than confronting each other. She demonstrates through her characters’ dialogue that the farsighted views of Smith would not have had a chance for implementation in the Deep South of the late nineteenth century....

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Contending Forces Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sappho Clark

Sappho Clark, a beautiful mulatto woman. Sappho is abducted by a white uncle when she is fifteen years old. She is placed in a brothel, where she remains for three weeks before she is rescued and carried to a convent, where she gives birth to a son. Later, she moves to Boston to start a new life. There, she meets Will Smith, whom she marries after a series of difficulties.

Will Smith

Will Smith, a black civil rights activist. An intellectual and philosopher, Will is a leader in his community. He meets Sappho in his mother’s boardinghouse and courts her, continuing the courtship despite many difficulties. They are married at the conclusion of the novel.

Dora Smith

Dora Smith, a spirited, independent black woman. At the beginning of the novel, she is engaged to John Langley, who betrays her because of his desire for Sappho Clark. Dora turns her attention to a childhood friend, Arthur Lewis, whom she eventually marries.

John Langley

John Langley, an ambitious black lawyer. An unscrupulous, self-centered man, John focuses his every move on satisfying his needs, ambitions, and desires. He alienates all who care for him and meets a dreadful death seeking gold in the Klondike.

Arthur Lewis

Arthur Lewis, the president of a technical college for black people in the South. He has long loved Dora, whom he eventually marries. His career goals are focused on the betterment of black people.