The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The main characters in Juneteenth are Alonzo Hickman, the jazz musician who transforms himself from a trombone player into a minister, and Bliss, his adopted white son, who later becomes Sunraider. Hickman’s role throughout the novel is to represent both the patience and the faith of that group of people to whom the novel is dedicated: “That Vanished Tribe into which I was born/ The American Negro.” Hickman’s patience and forbearance are demonstrated again and again in the novel, primarily through his willingness to raise the child that brought about his brother’s lynching. Hickman hopes that Bliss will become the one who brings whites and African Americans together through the power of the rhetoric he learns from his adoptive father. Instead, Bliss becomes the very opposite of what Hickman hoped he would be.
The transformation of Bliss to Sunraider is brought about by a number of factors. At one point, the senator explains to Hickman that the power of rhetoric he learned in the church was too much for him: “What could I do with such power? . . . I could bring a man to tears. I could topple him to his knees. Make him shout, crack him up with the ease with which shrill whistles crack icebergs.” The narrative also provides evidence that Sunraider was drawn to the white world by his mother’s attempt to kidnap him from a church service. Calling him Goodhugh Cudworth, she literally grabs for him and is only foiled by the heroic and...
(The entire section is 277 words.)
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As edited by John F. Callahan, Ellison's literary executor, Juneteenth is ostensibly the tragedy of Adam Sunraider. Tension builds as Ellison hints at an impending disaster; then the shooting of Sunraider begins a series of conversations and individual flashbacks, a stream of two consciousnesses, highlighting the various stages of Sunraider's life. Born the son of an unidentified father, the baby was given to Hickman, who in turn has named him Bliss and dedicated him to the spiritual and political salvation of American society.
Initially the young boy is eager to please "Daddy Hickman," and he seems to enjoy the stature he gains through his role as minister. Nevertheless, his recollections of confrontations with his peers indicate his unwillingness to be limited to a single identity. At the same time he grows increasingly reluctant to participate in Hickman's dramatic portrayal of spiritual rebirth. His literal confinement in the white coffin comes to represent the psychological and emotional confinement of the role Hickman has chosen for him. Added to his dread of being enclosed is his sense that there is no tangible reward for him. Failing to understand the distinction Hickman makes between demanding "payment" for his ministry and using physical pleasures as tools to help him achieve a higher spiritual state, Bliss begins withdrawing—first, emotionally, and later, literally—from everything Hickman represents.
This series of...
(The entire section is 1237 words.)
Sister Arter is one of the members of Reverend Hickman’s parish that accompanies him to Washington, D.C. with the hopes of making contact with Senator Sunraider.
Sister Bearmasher is a member of Reverend Hickman’s parish who wrestles Miss Lorelli away from Bliss during a revival. During the revival, an unfamiliar, wild, red-haired white woman rushes through the procession, grabbing the young preacher, Bliss, and rips him from his little coffin. The woman appears insane and is screaming that the boy is her son. Many women from the parish attempt to pull Bliss from Miss Lorelli. However, the woman’s craziness makes her incredibly powerful. Finally, Bearmasher pushes her way through the crowd to Miss Lorelli where she winds handfuls of the woman’s hair around her arms and pulls the woman free of Bliss. Reverend Hickman loads Miss Lorelli, whose hair is still wound up in Bearmasher’s fists and arms, and Bearmasher into Miss Lorelli’s buggy. The three speed off through the night to delivery the crazy woman to the police.
Bliss’s Mother is an unnamed woman who accused Robert Hickman, Alonzo’s brother, of rape. Her false accusation leads to Robert’s murder at the hands of a lynch mob and her banishment from the white community. Pregnant and with nowhere to turn, Bliss’s mother goes to Alonzo’s home to give birth to her son. She admits that the...
(The entire section is 2495 words.)