Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1090
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Arnetta is the strong-minded leader of the black girls in the Brownie troop. She is a dominant personality, and after she speaks the other girls are usually quiet: “Her tone had an upholstered confidence that was somehow both regal and vulgar at once. It demanded a few moments of silence in its wake, like the ringing of a church bell or the playing of taps.” It is Arnetta who says that she heard one of the white girls call Daphne a “nigger,” and she is determined that the white girls must not be allowed to get away with it. She is eager to start a fight and makes sure that the reluctant Snot goes along, too. Arnetta plans out how the confrontation in the restroom is to be handled and gives instructions to the other girls. With Octavia, Arnetta is the first one to enter the bathroom. Arnetta is also a cunning girl. She makes a point of listening to Mrs. Margolin in class and giving all the right answers. Mrs. Margolin, therefore, has a good opinion of Arnetta and does not realize quite how subversive she can be. Arnetta knows how to deceive both Mrs. Margolin and Mrs. Hedy.
Daphne is the black girl who was allegedly insulted by one of the white girls, although she does not seem to be upset by it. Daphne is a very quiet girl. When she speaks, her voice is “petite and tinkly, the voice one might expect from a shiny new earring.” She appears to be intelligent and wrote a poem for Langston Hughes Day that won a prize at school. (Langston Hughes was a prominent African American poet.) Daphne’s parents are poor, and she wears old but clean clothes. She has no desire to fight the white girls and is excused from doing so by Arnetta. When the girls first visit the restrooms to assess the place where they seek out the fight, Daphne busies herself by cleaning up the trash.
Elise is a black girl who plays a minor role in the story. She is a follower of Arnetta and Octavia, although on one occasion she takes the unusual step of asking Snot, who is usually ignored by the others, for her opinion.
Mrs. Hedy is the parent helper for the troop of black girls. She is Octavia’s mother. Mrs. Hedy is worried about her impending divorce and talks about it in public, to Octavia’s embarrassment. She tries in a perfunctory manner to get the girls to behave themselves, but she has little authority over them. Instead, she persuades them to sing Brownie songs to cheer her up. She is lenient and allows the girls to go to the restrooms on their own.
Along with Arnetta, Octavia Hedy is one of the leaders in the troop of black girls. She is an aggressive girl with very long hair which “hung past her butt like a Hawaiian hula dancer’s.” Octavia is as determined as Arnetta that the white girls should not get away with insulting Daphne. She is scornful of Janice and keeps telling her to shut up, and she has the same attitude toward Laurel. She is also disdainful of the experience of being in camp. She says, “I mean, I really don’t know why it’s even called camping—all we ever do with Nature is find some twigs and say something like, ‘Wow, this fell from a tree.’” It is Octavia who decides that the girls should leave the restroom when they discover the white girls are retarded.
Janice is the girl who comes up with a plan to put daddy-long-legs in the white girls’ sleeping bags. She is a simple, country girl, “her looks homely, her jumpy acrobatics embarrassing to behold.” Janice is a big fan of Michael Jackson. Arnetta and Octavia treat her with contempt, but Janice does not seem to mind or even notice. At one point, Snot and Daphne are worried that Octavia may push Janice into the stream. Janice is enthusiastic about the prospective fight and carefully rehearses the line she has thought up: “We’re gonna teach you a lesson!” But when the time comes and she says this to the big white girl, it has no effect, and Octavia tells her to shut up.
Laurel, the narrator of the story, is one of the black girls in the Brownie troop. She has been called Snot ever since first grade. Laurel is a quiet, studious, observant girl who tends to stand apart from the others. She is not very popular with them. No one ever asks for her opinion; Octavia tells her to shut up, and Arnetta demands to know whether she is going to tell on them to Mrs. Margolin. Laurel seems more thoughtful than the others. She is the only girl who considers the possibility that the white girl did not use the forbidden term, that perhaps Arnetta misheard what was said. Laurel also wonders, unlike the others, what will happen if the white girls deny using the bad word, and why none of her troop considers the possibility that the white girls will not be so easy to beat up and may well fight back. But it is Laurel who observes that the only time the white girls will be unsupervised will be when they are in the bathroom, so she is in a way partly responsible for the confrontation that ensues. However, Laurel does not want to fight and tries to stay behind with Daphne, but Arnetta refuses to let her. Finally, it is Laurel who tells the story about the Mennonite family that paints the porch of their house, and it is she who understands more deeply than the other girls the origins of racism.
Mrs. Margolin is in charge of the troop of black girls and watches over them like a mother duck looks after her ducklings. According to Snot, Mrs. Margolin even looks like a mother duck: “she had hair cropped close to a small ball of a head, almost no neck, and huge, miraculous breasts.” Mrs. Margolin is a religious woman who likes to give religious instruction to the girls in the Brownie troop.
Troop 909 Leader
The Troop 909 leader is a white woman who enters the restroom shortly after the confrontation between the two groups of girls. She explains to Mrs. Margolin that the white girls may have special needs, but they are not retarded.