The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although Bailey is not the only narrator in Bailey’s Café, his voice dominates the action of the novel; he is truly the “maestro” of the concert. He is also the loquacious man at the counter, observing others and, like them, trying to understand the meaning of life. Obviously, he has always been that kind of person. Even as a child, he was trying to guess how others felt—for example, the Van Morrisons, for whom his parents worked. As Bailey tells the story of his life, he will stop periodically to act out little interchanges between his parents, conversations with Nadine, even the chants of the men at boot camp. Beneath this outgoing personality, however, is a tormented person who is consumed by guilt because he benefited from the dropping of the atomic bomb. This other persona, denoted by italics, speaks in a poetic, if often profane, style, abandoning Bailey’s usual wisecracking mode. Interestingly, when Naylor reaches deep into the thoughts of Sister Carrie and Sugar Man in the second chapter of the book, she again uses italics to mark the movement from what they say or think on a superficial level to what they deeply feel.

All the characters in “The Jam” except Sadie and Mariam are revealed in a fairly straightforward fashion. First, Bailey introduces them, and then they tell their stories to whomever is listening, perhaps to a reader who has by now been transported to the café. Each voice is unique. Ms. Maple’s complex,...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Bailey, as the owner of Bailey’s Café is called, a black veteran of World War II whose two great loves are baseball and his wife, Nadine. After the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Bailey was overcome by guilt and despair. He was rescued by Nadine, who installed him in the café, where he can talk to the customers and speculate about life.


Nadine, also called Deenie, a tall, beautiful African American woman. At the time of the story, she has been married to Bailey for twelve years. Nadine is a self-controlled person who seldom talks or laughs. During their courtship, she won Bailey’s respect by holding him at arm’s length until she could be sure that he thought of her as an individual, not merely a sexual object.


Sadie, an aging wino and prostitute. Born only because her mother had botched an abortion, Sadie spent forty years of her life trying to find approval and love, first from her mother, then from an elderly husband. After losing the home that had become her reason for existing, Sadie began to drink. Her wine dreams have become so fulfilling that when she finally is offered love, she chooses illusion instead.


Eve, the owner of the boardinghouse-bordello near Bailey’s Café. Turned out by the rigid preacher who reared her, Eve traveled on foot to New Orleans, where she made a fortune and also learned to...

(The entire section is 576 words.)