The Chaneysville Incident Characters

David Bradley

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Like the narrative course of the novel, which takes John Washington back to the place where his father worked through his life’s purpose and back through time in an examination of history and heritage, the method of characterization Bradley employs is also devised as part of a multiple perspective. John Washington is presented as the narrative consciousness of the novel, and all the other characters are essentially seen from his point of view—that is, from the outside. John, however, is extremely perceptive, and he has been educated as a historian who must exercise the discipline that insists on more than an emotional or instinctive response. Consequently, he is intelligently sympathetic and convincing in his accounts of the other characters and is a reliable narrator. When necessary, Bradley will also use an omniscient point of view, particularly when recounting John’s dialogue with Judith, a technique that indicates that she is an independent figure. This is appropriate, since she presents John with the challenge that is one of the propelling aspects of the narrative.

Bradley has made Moses Washington an exceptionally capable man, and it is John’s awed assessment of his father that ratifies readers’ reactions to Moses’ exploits. John’s historical foundation gives him a standard against which to measure Moses’ accomplishments. Along with C. K. Washington, Moses combines the mind of a precise thinker with the athletic ability of a...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Washington is drawn by David Bradley as a contemporary black man who has been assaulted by all the forces of a racist society at its most vicious and yet has managed to survive without being turned into a cipher or a demon. Bradley’s first-person narrative places the reader close to Washington’s heart and directly in his mind. Perhaps in an attempt to reject forever the slander that black men are intellectually inferior, Washington’s intellect is especially impressive, and he has taken advantage of his educational opportunities to develop an analytical power that can penetrate the most complex conundrum or confidently confront any intellectual adversary. Because he fears that he will lose his mental discipline if he yields to his emotional impulses, he fails to understand the complete meaning of anything, although he has very ably covered this up, even to himself. At first, he seems distant, self-serving, and not very likable, but his sense of fairness, morality, and ultimate decency tend to compensate for his coldness. His intense interest in all of the things of the world and his dry sense of humor make him an interesting companion for a journey, and his tremendous desire to know and understand the circumstances of his life eventually overrides his limitations and carries the reader steadily closer to him (as Judith moves closer to him) as the narration progresses. By the time that John finally decides to sacrifice all his stratagems of defense and risk his soul to make it worthy, Bradley has carefully prepared the reader to share this experience with John and to rejoice at his success.

Still, the most interesting and bizarrely heroic character in the novel is John’s father, Moses Washington. “Mose,” in his son’s words, is an “ex-moonshiner and murderer who has taken up philosophy, eccentricity, church-cleaning, marriage and fatherhood as retirement...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Washington

John Washington, a history professor and scholar. A cynical young black man of about thirty, John returns to his hometown to comfort a dying friend, Jack Crawley, and ends up reevaluating his own life when he finally understands the circumstances surrounding the deaths of his father, Moses Washington, and his great-grandfather, C. K. Washington. the beginning of this insight occurs when, after Crawley’s funeral, John is presented with the folio bequeathed to him earlier, in his father’s will. the contents of the folio, along with other clues left by Moses, guide John through a historical puzzle and eventually help him find peace and meaning in his own life.

Moses Washington

Moses Washington, John’s father, a bootlegger with enough information to blackmail all the rich white townspeople, who spurn the impoverished black community banished to the Hill. A powerful man within the district, he is feared by both blacks and whites, even though he keeps to himself, spending most of his time tramping through the Pennsylvania hills and checking on the status of his numerous stills. His suicide, mistaken as a murder, is disguised as a hunting accident to prevent an investigation from accidentally uncovering the folio, believed to contain dangerous evidence incriminating the town officials. Moses, like his son, John, is preoccupied with history and struggles to learn the truth about his ancestors. He...

(The entire section is 575 words.)