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 to the spiritual grandeur of its central character. Even if Walker had not so fully revealed her protagonist’s feelings, the facts of her story alone would have shown how consistently Vyry repays injury with forgiveness. Rejected by her father, tortured by his wife, and brutally beaten after her attempt to follow her husband to freedom, Vyry has every reason to hate the white race. On occasion after occasion,...
(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 well educated and intelligent but consumed by his hatred of whites and of the white Christian God. The stable and hardworking Innis Brown lacks Vyry’s faith in education, which he sees as denying him the field help which he needs. His whipping of Vyry’s oldest boy, Jim, Randall Ware’s son, comes very close to breaking up the marriage; it is only after Innis sees Vyry’s scars that he finally understands why his own violent actions so repel her....
(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.
Innis Brown, Vyry’s second husband. A former field hand, Innis is uneducated but hardworking and kindhearted. A tall man with warm brown skin and brown hair, he first befriends Vyry’s two children and later saves her from marauders. After they marry, he disagrees with her only about the value of education but eventually is won over by her arguments in favor of it.
John Morris Dutton...
(The entire section is 760 words.)
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 Fletcher in Greenville, Alabama.
Henry Turner is a very light-skinned black man who convinces Randall War, in the early Reconstruction era, to encourage black men in Dawson, Georgia, to support Ulysses S. Grant for president and even to run for office in the Georgia State Congress.
A beautiful woman in her youth, Hetta is a dark-skinned slave and the mistress to her married white slave owner, John Morris Dutton. At age twenty-nine, she has had fifteen children, some fathered by Dutton and others by her slave husband Jake. She is also called Sis Hetta.
Hilma is one of Lillian Dutton’s best friends.
Innis Brown is a “high brown” man who is freed by the Union army, saves Vyry from an attack, stays on at the...
(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...
(The entire section is 1550 words.)