Irene (’Rene) Westover Redfield
Irene (’Rene) Westover Redfield, the protagonist, in her early thirties, foremost among a cast of unlikable characters. She is a complacent member of the moneyed black elite of Harlem with a craving for safety. Olive-skinned, she “passes” for white when she wants a taxi, a theater ticket, or entrée into a classy café, but her erstwhile friend Clare Kendry’s wholesale betrayal of her race provokes her scorn and a sense of unease. Jealous and frightened of Clare’s attraction for her husband, she is nevertheless bound to her by the ties of race. As the novel’s center of consciousness, from the first she focuses the reader’s own sense of unease, and at the novel’s close the reader wonders whether ’Rene has deliberately pushed Clare to her death from a sixth-floor window.
Clare Kendry, also referred to as Mrs. John Bellew, ’Rene’s Chicago childhood friend. Blonde, pale-skinned Clare grew up as the orphaned poor relation of whites whom it suited to obscure her racial origins. She is now married to a wealthy black-hating bigot (he nicknames her “Nig” because her skin is darkening with age). There is reckless daring in her life of deception and something tragic in the loss of selfhood that drives her to reestablish dangerous contact with the blackness whose burden ’Rene has been privileged to bear so lightly. An elusive and flowerlike beauty with a...
(The entire section is 444 words.)