The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In the first chapter of New Day, the action flashes back to 1865 and the presentation of Pa John Campbell, a third-generation landowner and headman on the estate of the near-white public figure George William Gordon (a man actually executed as a result of the 1865 Rebellion and an officially named national hero of modern Jamaica). Pa John is of Afro-Scottish background, and the narrator observes, “All our family have got daylight under their skins and hair like English flax.” Because the family appears to be white, the members must be careful to demonstrate that they are not “playing like buckra,” and in fact they do usually identify themselves with their black compatriots.

Pa John is physically powerful, a skilled hunter and a natural leader who shuns public office in favor of minding his own business and working hard to support his family. At home he is a Bible-quoting authoritarian and in public a member of the established church and a respecter of the constituted authority. His stubborn faith in British justice and the belief that righteousness will protect him from scandal and persecution lead to his destruction.

Davie Campbell is the novel’s most fully realized character and beloved of the narrator, his youngest brother, Johnny. Contrary to his father, Pa John, Davie is impulsive and willing to contemplate violence to achieve political and economic change; too late he recognizes that his people need more preparation and better leaders than the vengeful Paul Bogle. One of the novel’s set pieces is the long, impressive but unlikely...

(The entire section is 647 words.)

New Day Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

David (Davie) Campbell

David (Davie) Campbell, Pa John Campbell’s son and a participant in the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion. Tall, blond-haired, and light-skinned, he identifies himself with the black population and calls for the fulfillment of the promises made at emancipation several decades earlier. Rebelling against the injustices of the legal system and the exploitation of poor blacks by white estate owners, Davie, at the age of nineteen, defies his conservative father and joins the radical group headed by Paul Bogle. Hot-blooded and daring, he is willing to use force to achieve his aims but is angered by Bogle’s lack of a coherent strategy and the useless violence that results. Davie escapes with his fiancée, Lucille, and brother Johnny to an isolated cay after the abortive uprising on Jamaica. He later returns to Jamaica, makes an impressive appearance before the Royal Commission investigating the rebellion, and is granted a pardon and a lease to the cay, which he names “Salt Savannah” after his childhood home. He marries Lucille and establishes a thriving community on the cay but becomes increasingly like his austere and religious father. He renames the cay “Zion” and, despite his wife’s unhappiness because of his fanaticism, obsessively attempts to eliminate what he sees as idleness and frivolity. He is killed in the 1874 hurricane.

Pa John Campbell

Pa John Campbell, a near-white farmer and headman on the estate of George William Gordon. A deeply religious member of the Church of England and a stern, iron-willed disciplinarian, he attempts to teach his seven children to obey the Bible and respect established authority. A tall, powerful man and a natural leader who tries to mind his own business, he is violently opposed to his son Davie’s association with the radical and, to his mind, wicked Paul Bogle. Pursued by the authorities in the mistaken belief that he had supported Bogle’s uprising, Pa John stubbornly clings to a naïve faith in British justice and the protection afforded by his own righteousness. Hoping to halt the slaughter of innocents by talking to the governor, he is shot down by English soldiers. His son Emmanuel dies with him.

Johnny Campbell


(The entire section is 923 words.)