Emma Lou Morgan
Emma Lou Morgan, the extremely color conscious, and therefore self-conscious, protagonist. Because of her very dark skin, young Emma Lou repeatedly has been ostracized and victimized by her fair-skinned family in Idaho, her white high school classmates, fellow students at the University of California, and the people she meets when she flees from Southern California to Harlem. Naïve, intellectually pretentious, and an elitist, Emma Lou has internalized self-hatred; she worships light skin and, ironically, is herself biased against other dark-skinned people, generally finding them ugly and unattractive or too poor and unsophisticated for her. Having left college to work in New York, Emma Lou finds that her color prevents her from obtaining “congenial” jobs. As a maid for a white actress, she learns how white people think that black people act and live in Harlem. Toward the end of the novel, she completes a teacher training program and begins to teach. Because of both the color bias of others and her own excessive color consciousness, she remains largely isolated and alienated from the Harlem community.
Alva, Emma Lou’s racially mixed Harlem lover, a charming, though heavy drinking, ladies’ man. He is considered attractive largely because of his “high yellow,” or parchment, complexion and his sophisticated manners. Alva cynically uses Emma Lou both for sexual gratification and as a means of financial support. He perceives her loneliness and turns it to his advantage by courting her and introducing her to Harlem nightlife despite the laughter of his friends, who mock his attentions to so dark a woman. Eventually, he tires of her heightened color sensitivity and tells her frankly about her own prejudices. Toward the end of the novel, although his charms are considerably dissipated by alcohol and fast living, Alva still is able to manipulate Emma...
(The entire section is 787 words.)