If Beale Street Could Talk Characters

James Baldwin

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tish Rivers as narrator provides an account of the day-to-day events that move the plot forward, and she also provides the background information that gives credence to the evaluations that she makes of the people around her. Baldwin, writing from the female point of view, appears to understand the female psyche and has made Tish into a believable human being. That the vocabulary and the philosophy are sometimes those of James Baldwin does not make Tish less of a woman; instead, she appears at times to have wisdom beyond her age and education, to be fifty rather than nineteen.

The unborn child is the catalyst for the novel. Without the reactions to this expected birth, the gentleness and love of family life could not be told as effectively.

Fonny, the sculptor, is a sensitive young adult, secure in the knowledge of Tish’s love and in his ability to sculpt. His interactions with his friend Danny, when they meet by chance after Danny’s having been in prison, emphasize the positive aspects of friendship. Fonny’s asking Joe for Tish’s hand in marriage also adds to the portrait of a youth who is forthright in his dealings with people. Yet Tish does relate that Fonny quit vocational school only after stealing woodworking tools, breaking into the school, and stealing most of the wood from the shop. As far as Tish is concerned, these acts are justifiable because the educators are teaching the students to be slaves.

In the Rivers family, there seems to be ample love among the family members. Sis has two jobs. From one,...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Clementine “Tish” Rivers

Clementine “Tish” Rivers, a salesclerk at the perfume counter of a department store, a very slim, nineteen-year-old black woman. Her two foci in life are her fiancé, Fonny, who languishes in jail, and their unborn child. Although not naïve, she is essentially a trusting person, a result of innocence and youth. She draws for her strength on her love for Fonny and the love her family feels for her. Because she has never had any other lover, paramount in her life is getting Fonny, falsely imprisoned for rape, freed so that they can get on with their lives as a family.

Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt

Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, a sculptor of some talent. At the age of twenty-two, he sits powerless in jail, frustrated in his inability to contribute to his legal defense or take care of Tish and his soon-to-be-born child. Unlike Tish, he has not been a part of a close and caring family, so he feels more a member of her family than of his own. The Rivers family trusts him completely with Tish because they recognize his love for her. He knows that he must depend on her and her family to help him win his freedom. He has known Tish since childhood, and they grew up together.

Ernestine Rivers

Ernestine Rivers, Tish’s twenty-three-year-old sister, who works with children in a settlement house and has connections in the white world. She is more worldly and streetwise than...

(The entire section is 559 words.)