The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Lena is marked by feelings of ambivalence regarding her special status. On one hand, she accepts with easy grace her place at the center of her community and the affection and trust that are showered upon her by it. Lena is particularly easy in her relationships with adults, such as Frank Peterson, a handyman who helps maintain the McPherson home, and Gloria, a barmaid in her father’s juke joint. These characters could easily be dismissed as a drunk or a “loose woman” (and they sometimes are), but Lena is able to see past the superficial and gains their trust, their affection, and a great deal of information about human frailty and resilience as a result. On the other hand, the very root of Lena’s sympathetic relations with these marginalized people, the heightened perception that allows her to see on multiple planes, is an aspect of her identity that at times leads her to question her own sanity.

The generosity of spirit and confident assurance that Lena exhibits are further cultivated in her home life. The domestic space is shared equally by Lena’s mother Nellie and her grandmother, who together constitute a dualistic image of domesticity. Nellie’s association with the modern is symbolized primarily through her rejection of Nurse Bloom’s folk wisdom. Miss Lizzie’s association with tradition is primarily expressed through her storytelling (which focuses on ghosts) and her belief in folk cures. Within the novel, however, aspects of each...

(The entire section is 421 words.)