The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This autobiographical novel is Piri’s own story, so Piri is the most thoroughly depicted character in it. He is an individual confused about his identity and driven by bitterness. Questions of identity and race lie at the core of his problems with identity and his anger. Both of his parents are from Puerto Rico, but Piri is born and grows up in New York; thus, there is a gap between him and his parents. To make matters even more complicated, Piri and his father have dark skins, and Piri’s mother and his brothers and sisters have light skins. This would not be a problem in Puerto Rico, where racial consciousness is less pronounced than in the mainland United States, but it is a big problem for Piri. He continually feels “hung up between two sticks,” in his phrase. There are continual hints that his father’s own discomfort about having dark skin is a source of the coldness the son feels from his father.

Much of the book concerns Piri’s attempt to answer the question, “Who am I?” He undertakes his journey to the South with Brew in order to attempt to learn whether or not he is black. Over the course of his life, skin color becomes an increasingly important issue for him, and he receives or perceives so many rejections and frustrations as a result of his dark skin that he develops intense anger toward whites and toward the world in which it is so hard for him to find a place.

Momma continues to be Puerto Rican despite her years in the United States....

(The entire section is 608 words.)