In Hagar’s Daughter, the major female characters all pass for white for part of their lifetimes. Hagar and Jewel do it unknowingly and are at first appalled when they learn of their African American blood. Both are portrayed as the epitome of gracious womanhood, both before and after they become aware of their backgrounds. Submissive, pious, pure, and domestic, they represent the nineteenth century values of true womanhood and femininity.
Aurelia Madison, the sexually vibrant and manipulative daughter of the slave trader Walker and a slave, has none of the above qualities. Although she is an adventuress, the author seems to approve of her actions—she is never punished for her part in the scheme to defraud the Bowens.
The central male characters do not always fare well in Hagar’s Daughter. Walker and St. Clair Enson are villains, representing greed and inhumanity. The white men who espouse abolitionism, the young Ellis Enson and Cuthbert Sumner, demonstrate the limitations of their liberalism when each initially disavows his wife upon learning of her African American heritage. They do eventually reject their racist views.
Because Winona contains so many adventures and life-and-death struggles, its characters are delineated more by their actions and speech than by particular stylistic devices. Winona, of mixed heritage, evinces personality traits associated with nineteenth century concepts of both...
(The entire section is 474 words.)