James Benson is Twyla’s husband. He is a native of Newburgh, the town where the later part of the story takes place. He is ‘‘comfortable as a house slipper’’ and is associated with the kind of family and continuity that Twyla’s history lacks.
Joseph Benson is Twyla and James’s son. Twyla becomes an activist in the busing controversy when Joseph is bused out of district in order to ensure racial integration in the schools.
Twyla is the main character and the story’s narrator. She was raised, in part, at an orphanage— not because her parents were dead, but because her mother chose or needed to ‘‘dance all night’’ and was thus unable to care for her. The fact that Twyla lacks mothering is central to her character. She marries into a stable, rooted family and becomes a mother herself. It is in this capacity that she becomes involved in the controversy over racial integration in the schools and gets into a conflict with Roberta, a friend from the orphanage with whom she has recently become reacquainted.
Twyla is characterized throughout the story in terms of her relationship to Roberta, which is often one of contrast. As in their divide over the busing crisis, these contrasts are based around the central issue of their racial difference. Despite the fact that Twyla and Roberta are of different races and also, as the story progresses, different economic classes, there are underlying similarities and shared experiences— particularly their relationships to their respective mothers—that suggest the possibility of understanding and friendship. However, the events of the story illustrate that this possibility is precarious due to the social and cultural pressures that discourage interracial friendship.
Big Bozo is the nickname for Mrs. Itkin, who oversees the care of Twyla and Roberta while...
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