The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Margaret Walker’s preoccupation with crafting a story that, above all, tells the whole truth can be seen in her approach to characterization. In Jubilee, even the most oppressive whites are shown as individuals, with their own frustrations and their own griefs. The overseer Ed Grimes, for example, resents the fact that he must spend his days in the fields with the slaves while his wealthy employer indulges his own whims. Grimes’s sense of social inferiority and his fear of the slaves under his control help to explain his willingness to join with Big Missy in torture and murder.
As for Salina herself, Margaret Walker once commented in an interview that those readers who called the woman a “monster” misunderstood the story. Given her upbringing as a young southern lady, an upbringing that denied her any knowledge of sex, Salina was conditioned to react as she did when confronted with the realities of marriage. Moreover, it is not surprising that Salina hates her husband’s offspring by another woman, slave or not. Unfortunately, the institution of slavery gives her the opportunity to vent her wrath upon the innocent child Vyry.
Although Walker wants her readers to understand the motivations of her unsympathetic characters, she also believes that one can choose to rise above a corrupt society, as Vyry manages to do. Readers who find Jubilee to be one of the most memorable historical novels set in this period often point...
(The entire section is 768 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Because Margaret Walker wishes to make the novel about her real great-grandmother Vyry a realistic picture of two decades in the South, she chooses in Jubilee to write as an omniscient author, venturing onto the Confederate battlefields and into the minds of the slave owners and tracing the adventures of Vyry’s husband, Randall Ware, when he has been assumed to be dead. Yet all the characters in Jubilee and all the events are important to Vyry, who is Walker’s admirable heroine. During slave days, Vyry is intelligent enough to survive. She learns to work hard and to avoid confrontations, particularly with Salina Dutton, who hates this slave-born offspring of her own husband even more because Vyry resembles Salina’s daughter Lillian. She learns to be skeptical of the easy promises of her white father and of the courting gestures of her admirers. As one by one her protectors vanish from her life, Vyry must depend on her own strength. During the later days of the war and the Occupation, it is Vyry’s leadership and her practical good sense which enable the surviving whites and the remaining blacks on the plantation to cope with the dangers of disease and starvation. Above all, through her living Christianity Vyry subdues hatred and bitterness, and because of a typical charitable act, she gains for her family a home and a place in the community.
Vyry’s two husbands are very different from each other. Randall Ware, the free black, is...
(The entire section is 785 words.)
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Elvira (Vyry) Dutton
Elvira (Vyry) Dutton, the protagonist, based on the author’s great-grandmother, a slave on a Georgia plantation who is freed at the time of the Civil War. At the age of two, she loses her mother in childbirth. The daughter of the white plantation owner, Vyry is pale-skinned, with sandy hair and gray-blue eyes. Mistreated and beaten by her father’s white wife, she develops great strength of character while retaining her capacity for compassion and for forgiveness. When her free husband is forced to leave Georgia without her and their two children, she tries to remain true to him, but at the end of the war, she marries Innis Brown. As they move westward in search of a home, she bravely endures a flood, sickness, poverty, and persecution. It is her kindness toward a pregnant white girl that brings her the support of the Greenville, Alabama, community, and a secure, permanent home for her family.
Randall Ware, a free black man, a blacksmith. A young, muscular man with coal-black skin, Ware is proud of his free birth. Having inherited money from his white guardian, he has bought property in Georgia. When he is elected to the legislature after the Civil War, he is threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and forced to sell his property and leave. When he finds Vyry in Greenville, he begs her to return to him but she decides to stay with Innis.
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List of Characters
Addie Barrow is one of Lillian Dutton’s best friends and the daughter of Smith Ambers Barrow.
Allen Crenshaw heads a family neighboring the Duttons and attends the dinner party on the Dutton plantation.
Aunt Sally is Hetta’s close friend and the slave cook in the Big House on the Dutton plantation.
Belle is one of Lillian Dutton’s best friends.
Ben is a newly purchased slave on the Dutton plantation.
Betty-Alice Fletcher is a young white woman whom Vyry assists in delivering her first baby, Henry Fletcher, Jr, in Greenville, Alabama.
Big Boy is a field hand on the Dutton plantation. He is Caline’s husband but is sold and never heard from again.
Along with Randall Wheelright, the unkempt and heavily-built Bob Qualls has long been suspected of helping escaped slaves in central Georgia.
Brother Zeke is a strong, dark-skinned preacher on the Dutton plantation. He is literate and helps slaves escape to Canada. He is also called Zeke and Brother Ezekiel.
Caline is a childless slave working in the Big House on the Dutton plantation.
Clark Graves attends the dinner party on the Dutton plantation.
The Coopers are a poor white sharecropper family in Alabama.
Ed Grimes is the white plantation overseer on the Dutton plantation. He comes from a poor family and is stocky, strong, red-headed, and quick to anger.
Fanny Crenshaw is one of Lillian Dutton’s best friends and the daughter of Allen Crenshaw. She has known the junior John Dutton since childhood.
Grandpa Tom is a slave and stable keeper. He is one of the oldest slaves on the Dutton plantation.
Granny Ticey is the midwife and doctor among the slaves on the Dutton plantation.
Harry Brown is the first child born to Vyry and Innis Brown. He is Vyry’s third child.
Henry Fletcher is the young white man married to Betty-Alice...
(The entire section is 1346 words.)
Elvira Dutton, known as Vyry, is the central character of Jubilee. She is the last live-born child of the slave Hetta and her owner, John Morris Dutton. Vyry has physical characteristics, including straight hair and light skin, that allow her to pass for White once she is away from the plantation. On the plantation, of course, her mixed-race ancestry is both an advantage and a curse. She is one of the house slaves, leading a much more comfortable life than that of a field hand, but she is also treated cruelly by Salina Dutton, her father's White wife and the mistress of the plantation.
In many ways, Vyry is the moral center of the novel. In one of the final chapters, the third-person narrator says of her that she is
the best true example of the motherhood of her race, an ever present assurance that nothing could destroy a people whose sons had come from her loins.
Indeed, one of her greatest goals in life is to have her sons and daughter learn not only the value of hard work but also the rewards of formal education. Vyry has an unswerving sense of loyalty; for example, even after Union troops have formally liberated the slaves on the plantation where she grew up, she stays on to care for Lillian Dutton, the last living member of the family of her former owners. In speaking to her oldest son, Vyry gives voice to the values that her life largely embodies:
We supposen to love everybody like God loves us. And when you forgives you feels sorry for the one what hurt you, you returns love for hate, and good for evil. And that stretches your heart and makes you bigger inside with a bigger heart, so's you can love everybody when your heart is big enough.
Vyry is not without flaws, however. Perhaps the most visible character flaw is her bias against the Black field hands, whom she sees through much of her life as inferior to house slaves or freed Blacks such as Randall Ware. Only when she comes into closer contact with field hands, shares their work, and falls in love with one of them does she begin to change her views.
Margaret Walker explains in the Dedication that the events in Vyry's life are based on the experiences of her maternal great-grandmother, Margaret Duggans Ware Brown. Walker also identifies her own maternal grandmother, named Elvira Ware Dozier, as the one “who...
(The entire section is 1550 words.)