The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Since Banana Bottom is the story of Bita Plant’s self-discovery, it is not surprising that she is the only character who can be seen to develop in the course of the novel. Certainly, when Bita comes home to Jamaica, she is already more complex than the Craigs believe her to be. She loves and respects her adoptive parents, and initially she seems willing to fulfill their ambitions for her, especially since her parents are in agreement about her future. Bita, however, is still the same girl who for so long had run wild at Banana Bottom, and she is also the girl who threw herself into the arms of Crazy Bow because she was so overwhelmed by his music. She is also still a Jamaican. If she is exposed to her heritage, she will respond to it, and ironically, by encouraging intellectual curiosity, her European education has merely made her exposure a certainty.

McKay does not, however, present his heroine as a person at the mercy of her emotions. Every time Bita sees something new, she first observes, then decides whether or not to participate. Her detachment is impressive. The moment she comes back to consciousness after fainting in religious ecstasy at a revival meeting, Bita begins to analyze her own reactions. Her development, then, is not merely accidental. Throughout the novel, Bita is busy making the most of every experience, watching herself and others in order to discover her true nature and to make herself into the person she wants to be.

The other characters, though not as dynamic as Bita, are still fairly complex. Moreover, although McKay’s lengthy descriptions and explanations prevent the others from being stereotypes or caricatures, each is primarily important as an influence...

(The entire section is 701 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bita Plant is without doubt McKay’s most skillfully drawn character, and she embodies all those traits that McKay admired: freedom from the hypocrisy that all too frequently accompanies religiosity, unrestrained enthusiasm for the arts and entertainments of the folk, pride in black institutions and heritage, independence in thought and behavior, and discernment in the choice of competing ideologies. Whether the choice is between Christianity and God or Obeah and the Devil, between village society or rural isolation, between cantatas or digging jammas (songs), Bita is seldom persuaded by others’ opinions: She exercises her independent judgment, which had been developed during her European schooling. In some ways she exhibits the characteristics of the Pankhursts, the British liberals with whom McKay worked in his early years while contributing to the Workers’ Dreadnought: They were liberal, independent, indefatigable—though not given to the free expression of sexuality that characterizes Bita’s life.

The Craigs, determined Christians and well-intentioned as they are, are nevertheless unforgiving, confining, and sexually repressed; their generosity in adopting and educating Bita is negated by their inability to grant her freedom to develop in her own way; their goal is conversion to middle-class Christian ways and the expunging of natural, instinctive, emotional behavior—especially as it is manifest in physical attraction and...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Tabitha (Bita) Plant, a Jamaican village girl adopted and educated by the Craigs, who are British missionaries. At the age of twelve, she had her first sexual experience, to which she was a willing partner; propriety required that it be represented as rape. Accordingly, when adopted, she is sent to Europe for seven years to be transformed into a dark-skinned Briton of Calvinist outlook, a proper model for the local villagers. She rejects hypocrisy, enjoys sensuality, identifies with folk institutions and beliefs, and adopts a philosophy and lifestyle that are amalgams of Caribbean and continental cultures, of colonial and metropolitan ways. She is the quintessential woman of the West Indies: physical, intellectual, and attuned to island life.

Malcolm Craig

Malcolm Craig, a Calvinist minister of the mission church in Jubilee. His grandfather founded the mission. Well-built, frank, and hearty, he grew up in the village and loved the countryside; however, his religion was unforgiving, confining, and joyless. His true motive in adopting and educating Bita was to demonstrate his theory that natives could be transformed into civilized individuals and weaned from the joys of the flesh.

Priscilla Craig

Priscilla Craig, one of only two ordained clergywomen in the colony. She is a middle-aged, small woman full of high-class anxiety, a feminist related to British suffragists. Her face flushes with beatific light whenever she sings in church. Her son is a disabled, mentally impaired adult, and she is unable to agree to her husband’s wish to adopt a boy as a possible successor. She nevertheless agrees to adopt Bita, whom she wishes to rear as “an exhibit.” Like her husband, she denigrates affection and intimacy. She is generous in her expenditure of resources for Bita’s education, but she is niggardly in her expenditure of love.

Crazy Bow Adair

Crazy Bow Adair, a descendant of a Scots...

(The entire section is 818 words.)