The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The novel’s use of multiple points of view and stream-of-consciousness narration allows several characters to reveal themselves directly. Chapters narrated by Dewey Willson and his mother disclose their inner turmoil and add dimension to their characters. David Willson’s journal entries establish the longing and self-loathing of an otherwise silent and misunderstood man. Although Mister Leland and his father do not narrate chapters, their direct thoughts are divulged in interior monologues.

The ambiguous figure of Bennett Bradshaw is revealed by his speech, which is not only formal but also rather stilted. Accused of using a fake English accent, Bennett really echoes his family’s West Indian origin. When he shifts from this speech to the more familiar dialect of Sutton, Mister Leland immediately distrusts him: “Someone else’s voice was coming out of the man’s body.” Bennett’s dual speech pattern suggests that he is at home neither in the intellectual world of New York nor in the rural South. Although the novel centers on the actions of Tucker Caliban, no clear protagonist appears. Tucker is observed only through the eyes of other characters or through their memories. Consequently, Tucker is always seen, a small and determined figure, from a distance that cannot be traversed. He, like the African, becomes almost a figure of legend.

In fact, all viewpoint characters in the novel are white. African American characters are...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

A Different Drummer The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Each chapter of A Different Drummer concentrates on a unique point of view, so that the history of the state, of the Willsons, and of the Calibans is intricately pieced together by seeing how individuals have discovered and dealt with the relationships between blacks and whites. Tucker Caliban, for example, is approached obliquely— first through the story of his African ancestor, and then through the Lelands, father and son, who give a sympathetic but somewhat removed view of Caliban, a view that is available to the community but which it does not share because intimacy between the races is discouraged.

David Willson, the great-grandson of the general, gradually becomes the novel’s chief interpreter of Tucker Caliban’s actions. He has grown up with Tucker, seen an uncomplaining Tucker take a beating because he stayed out too late helping David learn how to ride a bike. Willson’s diary, covering the years from 1931 to 1957, reveals how he has tried to surmount the limitations of his Southern background. At college, he has befriended the radical Bennett T. Bradshaw, espoused Socialist causes, equal rights for blacks, and then come home to compromise his ideals when it becomes clear that he will not be able to support his family otherwise.

In many ways, Willson reflects his family’s ambivalent history. In “The African,” Dewitt Willson seeks to own the defiant black, but the master also admires the slave’s independence....

(The entire section is 484 words.)

A Different Drummer Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Tucker Caliban

Tucker Caliban, the “different drummer” who, by destroying his farm and departing with his family, precipitates the exodus of the black population from the fictitious southern state in which the story is set. The land previously belonged to the Willsons, the white clan that Tucker’s family had served even after emancipation. Tucker buys the land from David Willson, saying, “You tried to free us once, but we didn’t go and now we got to free ourselves.” Physically small, with a large head and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, Tucker often appears inscrutable to the other characters. His actions demonstrate an almost instinctive self-reliance. He refuses, for example, to support the National Society for Colored Affairs because he denies that anyone else can achieve his rights for him.


Bethra, Tucker’s wife, a tall, slim, and beautiful woman. Poised and intelligent, she had been working as the Willsons’ maid to earn money to finish college. Her college plans are dropped, however, when she falls almost girlishly in love with Tucker, and they marry. More educated than her husband, Bethra is at first embarrassed by his rejection of her friends’ civil rights causes, and she leaves him. She returns, however, in a week, having come to see the truth of his commitment to independent action. Dymphna Willson, who made Bethra her confidant, acknowledges that the black woman has taught her much about life.

Mister Harper

Mister Harper, the town philosopher. A retired army officer, he went to West Point but, being too young for the Civil War and too old for World War II, never put into practice his military training. His son, however, was killed in World War II. Thereafter, feeling “knocked down by life,” he stayed in a wheelchair. From his porch, he dispenses analyses of the world’s chaotic events to townspeople who daily gather around. For example, he offers the “genetic” explanation for the exodus of the black people, telling the story of the near-mythic, prodigiously powerful, and elusive African who was Tucker’s ancestor. He leaves his wheelchair for the first time in thirty years to watch Tucker Caliban destroy his farm.

Harry Leland

Harry Leland, a sharecropper. He admonishes his son for using the word “nigger”; in contrast with others in the town, he recognizes the need for adapting to change and for getting along with all kinds of people. Having been a sergeant in the Korean War, he theorizes that the black people are conducting a “strategic withdrawal,” a prudent action for which he admires them.

Harold Leland

Harold Leland, called Mister Leland, Harry Leland’s son, an active eight-year-old with...

(The entire section is 1138 words.)