The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Early in the novel, Scooter remarks that his hero, Luzana Cholly, “was forever turning guitar strings into train whistles which were not only the once-upon-a-time voices of storytellers but of all the voices saying what was being said in the stories as well.” These are also the voices of the characters in Murray’s novelistic storytelling, a cross section of the “blues people” (to borrow a phrase from the contemporary African American writer Amiri Baraka) whom Murray knew in the rural South of his boyhood—ordinary people who spoke with extraordinary wisdom in an extraordinary new style of American English as they composed a heroic life and heritage. The artistic style of these voices, as exemplified in the novel’s narration, is a major device used by Murray for characterization. Another device is the content spoken by these voices, as Scooter talks about the members of his family and the people of his town and as they talk about one another and about him.

Characterization is accomplished mainly through talk, especially as Scooter relates and comments upon conversations among persons around him, discussing conversational styles and attitudinal content. He also reports, interprets, and sometimes explains people’s clothing styles, gestures, food, habits, achievements or failures, reputations, special acts and responses, histories, and stories they are known for telling about their own lives. Scooter’s characterizations of persons are corroborated by remarks by Little Buddy Marshall and by other observers and storytellers in the community, or...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Train Whistle Guitar Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Scooter, the boyhood, nickname identity of the adult narrator of the novel. He is the protagonist of the adventures that the narrator is relating from memory. The narrator presents his boyhood self as typifying, in many ways, black boys of his time and place, as well as all boys of any time and place. Scooter is free-roaming, curious about life, appropriately naïve and mischievous but playfully learning from experience, hero-worshiping, confident, and eager to conquer the world. In certain ways, which have made the narrator what he is, Scooter is special. He always has been told that he was born to “be somebody,” and this sense of himself sometimes has made him feel and act somewhat detached and superior. Possessing above-average intelligence and a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, he is eager to learn and to please his family and teachers. He is observant and reflective, articulate, and accepting of the rightness of virtue.

Little Buddy Marshall

Little Buddy Marshall, the best possible “riddle buddy” for Scooter and a constant companion in the pursuit of answers. Possessing many of Scooter’s boyish traits, he is also a foil for Scooter’s main distinguishing characteristics. Not a scholar, he does not have Scooter’s knowledge of history and geography, but he has experiential knowledge of violence and death, which he is prepared to find anywhere. He is more likely than Scooter to pick up and...

(The entire section is 480 words.)