The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
At least four of the characters in Just Above My Head are projections of the author himself. Hall Montana is Baldwin the novelist. Hall is a conservative heterosexual who works at conventional jobs and becomes a devoted father to two children. At one time in his life, Baldwin seriously considered getting married and trying to overcome his homosexual tendencies through leading a conventional life involving marriage and a steady job. He decided that such a course would be unfair to himself and to any woman he married. He could not continue to deny his homosexuality, and he could not indenture himself to the routine job and financial responsibilities that marriage would entail. Instead, he moved to Paris and led a precarious existence for many years as a freelance writer.
Arthur Montana, the gospel singer, is Baldwin the homosexual artist and has Baldwin’s middle name as his first name. Like Baldwin, Arthur is an acknowledged homosexual who has no intention of leading a conventional heterosexual life. Like Baldwin, Arthur goes to Europe and finds himself happier and more creative in the artistic world of Paris. Baldwin moved to Europe early in his career because the stigma of being black in the United States made him so angry and humiliated that he felt unable to be creative. He lived in France for most of his life and eventually was honored by being appointed a member of the Legion of Honor, the highest honor that can be given an artist in France.
Julia Miller, the most intriguing character in the book, is Baldwin the preacher....
(The entire section is 637 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The only fully realized character in Just Above My Head is Hall Montana. As the narrator, he is present in every scene. Although he is seven years Arthur’s senior, he learns much from Arthur. Indeed, through Arthur, his whole philosophy of life is changed drastically. Arthur helps Hall to understand how a man can love another man, and Hall comes to accept this phenomenon without moral judgment, as merely an alternative form of loving.
Julia, one of the novel’s more compelling characters, is, nevertheless, quite stereotypical. A somewhat offensive prodigy who preaches until she is fourteen, Julia ultimately becomes deeply disturbed by her incestuous relationship with her father: “Every thrust of her father’s penis seemed to take away the life that it had given, thrust anguish deeper into her, into a place too deep for the sex of any man to reach.” Julia is too sexually distorted to think of marriage, although she is capable of leading a life that is fulfilling in other ways. Her way of loving is as far from conventional as Arthur’s is, although it is on the surface somewhat less noticeable to society as being divergent.
Although the book’s narrative is generated by Arthur’s death, Arthur in many ways remains a secondary character. He lives with conflict generated, on the one hand, from his guilt about being homosexual and, on the other hand, from the racial situation that becomes progressively tense during the course of...
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Hall Montana, a black show business promoter. Hall had served as his brother Arthur’s manager until Arthur’s death at the age of thirty-nine. Tall, slim, and handsome, at the age of forty-eight, two years after Arthur’s death, Hall is still trying to reconcile himself to his brother’s life and his death in a London pub. Hall is sensitive, reflective, reflexive, and perceptive, and in piecing together his brother’s life he comes to realize more about himself and about life in general. He calls the story that he narrates “a love song to my brother.” Arthur Montana, sometimes referred to as “The Soul Emperor,” a world-renowned gospel singer. An active homosexual, he has a number of affairs, principally with Crunch, a member of the Trumpets of Zion quartet, of which they were both members as teenagers; Guy Lazar, a Parisian gentleman; and Jimmy Miller, four years his junior, who became his last lover. Arthur is quiet and sensitive. Although he feels some guilt about his homosexuality, he becomes quite a realist and accepts his lifestyle. His unhappiness and heavy drinking lead to his death from a stroke in a London pub while on tour at the age of thirty-nine.
Julia Miller, a child evangelist turned model. Thirty-nine years old, slim, sleek, and beautiful, with a disarming, childlike smile, Julia was called to preach at the age of seven and remained in the pulpit until she was fourteen. Soon after her mother dies, she is seduced by her father and has a continuous affair with him until she becomes pregnant from a one-night affair with Crunch and is beaten mercilessly by her father. After losing the baby, Julia is sent to New Orleans to her grandmother. She is “discovered” while working as a waitress and becomes a top model. After a brief affair with Hall Montana, Julia goes to Africa as the mistress of an Abijan chieftain. She eventually returns to New York and purchases a house in Yonkers.
Jimmy Miller, Julia’s younger brother, a pianist and Arthur Montana’s last lover. Jimmy is quiet, sensitive, and precocious. Never having gotten along with his father, he is sent to his grandmother in New Orleans after his mother’s death. He becomes Arthur’s accompanist while Arthur is on a tour of the South during the Civil Rights movement. They later fall in love and spend many happy years together, both in America and in Europe, until Arthur’s untimely death during one of their stormier episodes. Jimmy continues to wander throughout Europe, loving and missing Arthur, before finally returning to New York to the house he now shares with his sister.
Joel Miller, Julia and...
(The entire section is 1122 words.)