The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

While the major and minor characters in Hunting in Harlem are all well drawn, fully rounded, and believable, four in particular stand out. The primary protagonist and narrative filter is Snowden, the son of an abusive and militant civil rights advocate whom he killed in a fit of anger. Now grown into a nonconfrontational Everyman of few strong convictions beyond his own survival, Snowden believes in nothing and has no real moral center, so he is ripe for manipulation. When faced with tough choices, Snowden retreats into drink, sleeps, or takes refuge in a closet, justifying his inactivity while chain-smoking different brands of cigarettes: He has so little backbone, he cannot even decide which brand to favor.

Cyrus Marks is emblematic of the fanatic so absorbed by the righteousness of his cause—in this case, the rejuvenation of a neighborhood that once symbolized African American potential—that the concept of ethics has lost all meaning for him. To Marks, the battle for civil rights is over, and, rather than white oppression or racism, the true enemies of contemporary African Americans are themselves. He and his henchman, Lester Baines, will resort to anything in their pursuit of an ideal community.

Piper Goines represents feminism, sexuality, and intellectualism. She also provides a rational, skeptical base against which to measure the growing insanity of the Second Chance program. Originally attracted to Snowden, she is later captivated with Bobby and, as a fellow writer, is the only one to read and fully appreciate the budding novelist’s first published book, The Great Work.

Perhaps the most interesting character in Hunting in Harlem is Bobby Finley. A sensitive writer who provides a stark contrast to the brutish Horus, Bobby perceives in Piper a kindred spirit, and he forgives the reporter for her liaison with Snowden. Though Bobby, too, acquiesces to Marks’s methods of eliminating undesirables from the neighborhood, he alone of all the principals exhibits a conscience.