Can you describe the character of Ornita in Bernard Malamud's short story "Black Is My Favorite Color"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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According to the first-person narrator's opinion of her, Ornita is attractive and slight, though with some imperfect features. She has a stubborn streak that rejects the unwanted advances white men make toward her. So, by inference, her prettiness must appeal to enough white male strangers that her first response is one of disdain and disgust when Nat, the narrator and principle protagonist, picks her dropped glove up from the rainy sidewalk.

I picked up her green glove that she had dropped on the wet sidewalk. ... Before I could ask her was it hers, she grabbed the glove out of my hand .... I was annoyed so i said, "If you'll pardon me, Miss, ... at least don't make a criminal out of me."
   "Well, I'm sorry," she said, "but I don't like white men trying to do me favors."

Along with this, Ornita is sensible of her injustice and looks embarrassed when they meet again, and Nat says he won't give her a discount because she doesn't "like a certain kind of favor." At this, Ornita has the strength of character to say she is sorry she had "misunderstood" him the day with the wet green glove. She even allows Nat to institute a discount which she then rejects on days she feels tired or worried. So, though Ornita worries (later we learn she is also nervous), she has a sense of fair play, but it is interrupted by her experience with the opposite of fair play that, when she encounters it or remembers it (we aren't told more, though she is a widow whose husband fell 15 stories from a window he was washing), triggers her brusque defensiveness. Yet her defensiveness does not prevent her from feeling sympathy with Nat's mother's illness.

Ornita is also bitterly realistic and cynical. After a night out with Nat, who is Jewish and, by his account of himself, not very good looking ("a man of my type"), her parting response as she got in the cab--she wouldn't let him see her home to Harlem--was, "Why did we bother?" After Nat is hospitalized--a time during which his mother dies without him--he asks her to marry him and she replies that she can't think of it because of the memory of her husband. From this we also know that Ornita is still grieving; that she loves deeply and truly; that she isn't as unkind as her defensiveness and cynicism make her seem to be:

"My husband woulda killed me."
"Your husband is dead."
"Not in my memory."

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