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...
(The entire section is 599 words.)