The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The characters in The Chinaberry Tree defy a number of traditions established for black characters in American literature, for most of them belong to the black upper and middle classes. Jesse Redmon Fauset had to make her characters believable as representations of upper-class black people while at the same time making sure their individuality grew out of the specific contexts of the story.

Laurentine Strange is, on one hand, the stock “tragic mulatta” character. Her father is white, her mother one step from being a slave (Sarah Strange was a maid in the Halloway home), and Laurentine suffers in consequence. For most of her life, Laurentine steadfastly refuses to give into the demands of the black community. While Laurentine does not overtly challenge or confront members of the black community who judge her, she does get on with the part of her life that requires no social acceptance. The most significant area of her life that blossoms is her creativity, as expressed not only in her dress designing but also in the management of her business.

In addition to her creativity and management skills, Laurentine battles the black community in another way. She attends the black church and holds her head up high when she goes, even though she is aware of the gossip about her and her mother.

This is not to say that Laurentine is happy with her role as outcast. She merely refuses to bow to community judgment. This, however, is not all in keeping with...

(The entire section is 607 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Laurentine Strange

Laurentine Strange, a coprotagonist, a beautiful, middle-class black woman of twenty-four who has quietly and stubbornly refused to live fully. When her younger cousin comes to live with her, Laurentine is exposed to a number of new experiences and people that assist her in slowly emerging from a self-and other-created shell. For years, Laurentine and her mother, Sarah, have been the talk of the black community of Red Brook, New Jersey, because Laurentine is the product of Sarah’s well-known affair with the married and white Colonel Francis Halloway. It is only when Laurentine meets Dr. Stephen Denleigh, a newcomer to Red Brook who can accept her and her “bad blood,” that she begins to participate fully in life.

Melissa Paul

Melissa Paul, a coprotagonist, Laurentine’s sixteen-year-old cousin. She comes to live with the Stranges when her mother, Judy, Sarah’s sister, marries and moves from Philadelphia to Chicago. Judy thinks Melissa will be better off with Sarah. Melissa likes the middle-class lifestyle in Red Brook and is immediately popular at school. She makes the Strange household temporarily come alive with people and events. Melissa, a typical flirtatious teenager, has two memorable relationships in the novel, one with Asshur Lane and one with Malory Forten.

Sarah Strange

Sarah Strange, also called Aunt Sal, Laurentine’s mother and Melissa’s aunt....

(The entire section is 472 words.)