Jack Jefferson, a black heavyweight boxing champion. A complex personality, Jack plays many roles in American society in the years preceding World War I. After defeating the white champion, he becomes the object of the establishment’s attempts to dethrone him by finding a Great White Hope. Jack is powerful, aware, and moody; he knows what is expected of him outside the ring, but he plays the role of the big, black buck, slow of speech and intelligence and lusting after white women, with obvious irony. He also has a self-destructive bent because he lives openly with his white lover, Ellie Bachman, despite the outrage and vindictiveness of both white and black forces. After being arrested for violation of the Mann Act, Jack escapes to Europe rather than face his sentence. During his exile, Jack deteriorates as a fighter and as a man, unable to establish a stable personality among the many roles he is forced to play: embittered exile, victim of racism, and self-deprecating actor-fighter. He expresses his increasing bitterness toward the persecuted Ellie, who is driven to suicide. In his remorse, Jack accepts the offer from Cap’n Dan to throw the fight against the Kid, the new Great White Hope, in exchange for amnesty. Overall, Jack remains an enigma, defined more by the swirling forces around him than by himself.
Ellie Bachman, the young white woman who becomes Jack’s lover and suffers...
(The entire section is 569 words.)