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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

Gabriel is an enslaved African American who becomes the leader of a rebellion. He is the Prosser family’s slave on their Virginia plantation. The 24-year-old Gabriel is extremely tall and becomes known for his fighting prowess as well as his intellect and dignity. When two other slaves betray him, the rebellion fails, although Gabriel at first escapes. He is later tried and executed in Richmond.

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Thomas Prosser is the cruel owner of Gabriel and other slaves. When he tramples Bundy with his horse, it triggers the revolt.

Ben, an elderly slave, works in the house for the equally elderly Mossely Sheppard. Afraid to join the rebellion, he betrays Gabriel and is, in turn, punished by the other rebels.

Pharaoh also betrays the rebellion because of his resentment over Gabriel’s leadership, which he tries to usurp. After Gabriel’s capture, the other slaves attack him with knives. He goes mad after Gabriel is executed.

Juba, a young slave woman, loves Gabriel. She alone of the female slaves joins the rebellion, serving as a messenger. The strong, principled woman is caught and beaten; later, she is sold away.

Bundy, an elderly slave, is killed by his master, Thomas Prosser, who attacks him on horseback. This cruel murder inspires the others to revolt against Prosser.

Melody, a free mulatta, aids the rebels along with Biddenhurst. After the revolt falls apart, she leaves town.

Mingo is a free, literate black man. He works as a saddle maker, hoping to earn enough to free his still-enslaved wife and children. He uses his literacy skills for Bible reading to the slaves.

Alexander Biddenhurst is a white abolitionist from Philadelphia. As Melody’s friend, he is suspected of aiding the rebels and flees the city, fearing for his life.

Creuzot, who has no hope for improved race relations, is a white French printer of religious pamphlets. He is likewise suspected of conspiracy and flees out of fear.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599

In his 1974 work From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers 1900-1960, Arthur Davis makes the claim that Gabriel is so compellingly drawn that readers tend to overlook the book’s minor characters. Many readers may indeed find that to be true. Gabriel certainly is the most fully and compellingly drawn character. Nevertheless, critic Sandra Carlton-Alexander has argued convincingly that “short but rounded characterization was imperative given the demands of the unusual narrative technique” of Black Thunder, in which multiple points of view are used to tell the story.

Although Bontemps employs numerous characters, his characterizations are both clear and, when they have to be, succinct. For example, Pharaoh, the first slave to inform on Gabriel, is presented as jealous and untrustworthy. It is also clear that Gabriel sees him as such and so avoids giving Pharaoh any real responsibility in the rebellion.

By contrast, the people whom Gabriel does invest with some authority are shown to be trustworthy, useful men. Mingo, besides having the relative mobility freedom allows him, brings a priceless ability to the rebellion through his ability to read, which allows him to keep lists and records. General John is presented as being a crafty strategist, although he gets caught after the rebellion while trying to escape to Philadelphia to find Alexander Biddenhurst. Of Gabriel’s close friends, however, Ditcher is presented most clearly. Similar to Gabriel in many ways, he is large, strong, and a man of leadership ability, having served in the position—unusual for a slave—of being a black overseer on a plantation. He clearly does not have the drive and inspiration to organize such a rebellion or to keep fighting after the war is lost.

Of the characters who betray the revolution, Old...

(The entire section contains 1608 words.)

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