What is Lena's significance in "Big Black Good Man"?

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bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe Lena serves as a foil to Jensen. The first time she goes to be with Jim, it is all business, but Jim and Lena obviously connect on some level since she goes back for six nights and doesn't ever return to the hotel again after that. The fact that Jim is black must not bother her since she is willing to go back night after night. When Jim returns a year later, he tells Jensen they have been writing to each other, and he will be joining Lena at her home that night. Jensen not only judges Jim because of his race and size the first time he visits, but Jensen's racist fear and hatred towards Jim grows over the course of the year. By the time Jim returns, Jensen is so convinced that Jim is pure black evil that he wets himself in relief when he realizes Jim has brought him a gift instead. Lena serves to help make Jensen look even more ridiculous and ignorant than he already does.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lena embodies a complexity. By that I mean, at first she only deals with Jim because she has to--she's a prostitute, and he's a customer. Like Olaf Jensen, she deals with a black man first only as a matter of business. However, while Olaf stays tangled up about race, Lena and Jim eventually meet as humans, and become real lovers, rather than just prostitute and customer. Lena shows the possibility of transformation.

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Big Black Good Man

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