Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1054

Mrs. Ornita Harris
Mrs. Ornita Harris is a young, black widow who dates Nat, a white Jewish man, but who cannot bring herself to marry him. Ornita meets Nat when he picks up a glove she has dropped. She is rude to him, telling him that she does not need his favors, but when they meet a week later in Nat's liquor store, she is more cordial. Nat gives her a discount on her order, and she begins to come in every couple weeks. Ornita and Nat start dating, but there is a discomfort between them. She tells Nat that their dates are pointless, but she continues dating him. The first night they sleep together, Nat thinks he has fallen in love with her.

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After Nat gets held up at his store by two black men, landing him in the hospital, Ornita comes to visit him. Shortly thereafter, Nat proposes to Ornita, but she refuses his offer. They continue to date one another, however, and as Nat talks more about the possibility of marriage, Ornita warms up to the idea.

One night, as Nat is walking Ornita back to her house, three young black men stop them. The men are very rude and say some very indecent things about the interracial couple. One of the men slaps Ornita. Nat hits the man, and all three men proceed to knock Nat into the gutter, take his wallet, and flee the scene. Nat tries to console Ornita, but she is distraught, and she calls off the wedding plans, claiming that it will never work.

Nathan Lime
The narrator, Nathan Lime, known to most of the story's characters as "Nat," is a forty-four year old white, Jewish bachelor who claims to have always had an attraction to black people. Nat begins his tale by talking about his maid, Charity Quietness, who insists on eating her lunch in Nat's bathroom, separate from him. Nat provides his history with black people, starting with the first black person he tried to befriend: Buster Wilson, a boy who lived in Nat's Brooklyn neighborhood. Nat coaxes Buster into going to the movies with him on several occasions, but the friendship ends when Buster hits Nat and calls him a Jew in a derogatory manner.

Nat does not have much more luck with Mrs. Ornita Harris, a widow. Nat tries to be nice to Ornita when he first meets her, but she mistakes chivalry for charity and tells him she does not like white men doing her favors. He meets her again in his liquor store, where she is more cordial. He gives her a discount on her order, and after she visits his liquor store a few more times, Nat and Ornita begin to date. Nat becomes very interested in her, and he believes that he has fallen in love with her after the first time they sleep together. Ornita does not reciprocate his feelings right away; in fact, it takes a while before she can even feel comfortable around him.

Nat's store gets held up by two black men, one of whom knocks Nat out with his gun. While he is in the hospital, Ornita comes to visit him. When he gets out of the hospital, he proposes to Ornita, but she is reluctant at first. As they begin to date more seriously, she warms up to the idea of marriage. Nat makes plans to sell his liquor store so they can move to San Francisco, where interracial marriages are more accepted.

One night, after Nat and Ornita enjoy a trouble-free dinner with one of Nat's friends, three young black men stop them as they are walking home. The three men express outrage at the fact that a black woman is with Nat, a white Jewish man. One of them slaps her, prompting her to scream and Nat to hit him. Soon Nat finds himself in the gutter without his wallet, and Ornita refuses his offer to continue walking her home. Moreover, she calls off the engagement and stops dating him. As the story ends, Nat comes back to the present situation, with Charity Quietness eating her lunch in...

(The entire section contains 1054 words.)

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  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
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