Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 938
Archibald Absalon Wellington
Archibald Absalon Wellington, a black actor in the role of master of ceremonies in a play-within-a-play about the rape and murder of a white woman. He is a man who demands strict obedience to the script as he directs his troupe’s performance for five white members of the royal court, who are seated on an upper stage. Archibald’s purpose is to present his black actors in the light of the white court’s expectations. Because the white audience assumes that black people are liars and thieves, he instructs his actors to play those caricatures. He charges them to manufacture hate and to delete any word or gesture that might suggest love or humanity. At the close of the performance, he thanks his actors and congratulates them on portraying the stereotypes expected.
Dieudonné Village (deeyoo-doh-NAY vee-LAHZH), a black actor who plays the part of a rapist and murderer. He is the only male character to express love, and it is directed toward Vertu, the black whore. His desire to obey Archibald compels him to temper his love with words of despite. He leaves Vertu behind to reenact the slaughter of a white woman and seduces another actor, the black male Diouf, who is dressed as the female victim. He then rapes and strangles her. Although hunted down by the court, he assassinates them one by one. He returns to Vertu with words of love.
Mademoiselle Étiennette-Vertu-Rose-Secrète Diop
Mademoiselle Étiennette-Vertu-Rose-Secrète Diop (ay-tee-ahn-NEHT vehr-TEW rohz seh-KREHT dee-OHP), a black actress and prostitute. She is a woman of reason and balance and believes that there are bad black people as well as good ones. She is the only female character to express a love interest, which is directed toward Village. Vertu does not participate in the murder of the white girl.
Samba Graham Diouf
Samba Graham Diouf (dee-OOF), an old black actor who is the voice of order and reason. He seeks moderation and urges the blacks to be conciliatory. He pleads compromise, which falls on deaf ears. When ordered by Félicité to play the part of the slain white girl, Diouf dons a dress, a blonde wig, and a white girl’s mask. Immediately prior to his rape, Diouf is aided by Village in giving symbolic birth to five puppets representing the five members of the court. Diouf is then seduced by Village, taken behind a screen, raped, and strangled. He next appears—still as a white girl—on the upper stage, a symbol of the white man’s territory. From there, he gives an account to the black people of what it is like to be in the white man’s land.
Madame Félicité Gueuse-Pardon
Madame Félicité Gueuse-Pardon (fay-lih-see-TAY guhz-pahr-DOHN), an imposing sixty-year-old black actress often perched on a throne. She displays strength, courage, and wisdom. It is she who orders Diouf to assume the role of the murdered white girl, while she portrays the girl’s mother. When confronted with the white queen on her own turf, she executes an eloquent battle of words that she easily wins. In this discourse, she expresses her vision of an all-black world. She directs some of the action.
Madame Augusta Neige
Madame Augusta Neige (nehzh), a hostile, defiant black actress. She is moody, rebellious, and hatefully envious of white women. She advocates rape and murder but condemns Village, whom she claims felt love for the woman he strangled. She seethes with hatred, even boasting that she will drink the blood of whites. To her, all blacks are good and all whites are bad. In the reenactment of the murder, she plays the white girl’s sister.
Mademoiselle Adélaïde Bobo
Mademoiselle Adélaïde Bobo (ah-day-la-IHD boh-BOH), a black actress. She is a calculating, cold-blooded woman who adheres to the script the court wants to see performed. She preaches that the ideas of blacks must spring from hatred. In the murder of the white girl, she plays the victim’s neighbor.
Edgar-Hélas Ville de Saint-Nazaire
Edgar-Hélas Ville de Saint-Nazaire (ehd-GAHR-AY-lah veeyay deh sahn-na-ZAYR), a black actor who, like Diouf, makes an attempt at reason. He appears at intervals during the play to inform the black actors of events taking place outside the theater. There are hints of an antiwhite revolution.
The Judge, and
The Valet, all members of the court who are viewing the performance from the upper stage. They are all frauds playing the role of whites; they are actually blacks wearing white masks. They are bigoted figureheads with little power, scanty intelligence, and no passions. As vapid creatures who are not open to the truth, they demand drama from the blacks that fits neatly with their presupposed, stereotypical ideas. They assume that blacks are inhuman rapists and murderers, and this is the only way they will tolerate them being portrayed. In horror, they watch as the blacks rape and strangle a white girl. The heinous crime validates what they already knew to be true, and they go to Africa (the stage below) to avenge the girl’s death. Although they give lip service to justice by claiming not to indict all of Africa for one man’s crime, they immediately turn around and claim that any black person can be killed to pay the price for the crime. One black is as good—or bad—as another. One by one, the members of the court remove their white masks, and one by one they are assassinated by the blacks.