If Beale Street Could Talk Characters
by James Baldwin

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If Beale Street Could Talk Characters

The main characters in If Beale Street Could Talk are Tish Rivers, Fonny Hunt, Sharon Rivers, Ernestine Rivers, and Arnold Hayward.

  • Tish Rivers is the protagonist; she struggles with a looming pregnancy and the imprisonment of her fiencé, Fonny.
  • Fonny Hunt is a young sculptor who has been falsely accused of rape and awaits trial.
  • Sharon Rivers is Tish’s mother; she supports Tish and works to prove Fonny’s innocence.
  • Ernestine Rivers is Tish’s sister; she helps Tish navigate the difficulties in front of her.
  • Arnold Hayward is Fonny’s lawyer; he is convinced of Fonny’s innocence and works to overturn the charges.

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Clementine “Tish” Rivers 

Tish is the nineteen-year-old African American narrator of If Beale Street Could Talk. She works behind a perfume counter in a department store and lives in a Harlem housing project. Deeply in love with her fiancé, Fonny, and pregnant with his child, Tish is determined to help get Fonny out of jail after he is falsely accused of rape. Tish’s baby grows, and her job soon becomes too tiring for her; she quits and begins to visit Fonny twice a day, which provides him with the hope and comfort he needs to endure the abuse he receives in prison. As Fonny’s lawyer and Tish’s family attempt to build the case for Fonny’s innocence, Tish draws strength from her parents and sister, who support her relationship with Fonny and her pregnancy, and from Fonny himself. Tish goes into labor at the end of the book, but it is unclear when—or if—Fonny is able to reunite with her and meet their baby.

Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt

Fonny is a twenty-two-year-old African American sculptor from Harlem. He is in love with and engaged to Tish but is in prison: Tish informs him that she is pregnant with their child by telephone, looking through a glass wall during his visiting hours at the prison. Fonny was framed by a White police officer named Bell for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman despite the fact that he had been on the opposite side of town that night. While his lawyer, Tish, and Tish’s family scramble to raise money and build a case to defend him, Fonny struggles to remain optimistic and suffers abuse in prison. His frequent visits from Tish encourage him and give him the hope he needs to persevere. At the end of the novel, Fonny’s trial is postponed, and it is unclear whether or not he is released from prison.

Ernestine “Sis” Rivers

Ernestine is Tish’s older sister. As a worker at a children’s settlement house, she has connections to lawyers and is able to convince Mr. Hayward to take up Fonny’s case. When Tish tells her family that she is pregnant, Ernestine reveals that she had suspected this and encourages her to not be ashamed. Ernestine is a strategist: she convinces Tish that their mother is the best person to travel to Puerto Rico to locate Mrs. Rogers, and she develops a plan to fluster Officer Bell at Fonny’s trial and hopefully influence his testimony. Ernestine’s loyalty to Tish is evident when she defends Tish against Mrs. Hunt’s hateful remarks and when she goes to great lengths to help get Fonny out of jail.

Arnold Hayward

Mr. Hayward is the White lawyer whom Ernestine hires to defend Fonny. He discovers that Victoria Rogers, the woman who accused Fonny of rape, has returned to Puerto Rico, and he informs Tish and her mother. Hayward is discouraged with this case, as the district attorney has arrested a key witness, Daniel, to prevent him from testifying and probably also convinced Mrs. Rogers to leave. Despite the stressful and disheartening case, Mr. Hayward encourages Tish to remain optimistic, knowing that Fonny’s perseverance depends on Tish’s well-being.

Sharon Rivers

Sharon is Tish’s protective and loving mother. She enthusiastically supports Tish’s engagement to Fonny and is equally supportive when Tish reveals that she is pregnant, encouraging her to not be ashamed. Sharon travels to Puerto Rico to search for Victoria Rogers...

(The entire section is 1,252 words.)