The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Meshach Barry is a complex character who acknowledges to his audience that he is perhaps not the most reliable of narrators. By describing his feelings of guilt toward his daughter and by referring to himself as a hypocrite, a preacher who loves to stand in the pulpit and give sermons but who does not actually believe in God, Meshach makes it clear that he is not to be considered a noble or even a likable character. By establishing his own actions as negative, Meshach focuses positive attention on Cager, whom he calls the hero of his story. By introducing himself as an unreliable, biased storyteller, Meshach suggests that everything in his narrative, including Cager’s goodness, is questionable.

Cager Lee’s faith in African Americans’ need and ability to control their own destiny, coupled with his single-minded determination to help his people regardless of the cost to himself, clearly establishes him as a foil for the ambivalent Meshach. Cager is a martyred saint, a visionary secular prophet who believes that the ends justify the means. Cager’s intense conviction in the necessity of black self-determination is offset, however, by his naïveté. He is unable to distinguish between the militant rhetoric of The Chicago Hawk and factual reporting, and he is crushed when Haley Barnes informs him that Chicago is no mecca for African Americans. Although his determination is admirable, Cager’s childish simplicity, as pointed out by Barnes, makes him another questionable character.

After Cager goes to work for Mrs. Dabney, several people,...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Meshach Coriolanus Barry

Meshach Coriolanus Barry, the narrator, a lonely, obsessive fifty-five-year-old black pastor. A life of professional tragedies as well as accomplishments has led him through prison and mental hospitals. He decides to write the history of his long-dead college friend Cager Lee. For thirty-five years, Meshach has been obsessed with the events leading to Cager’s death, and he has mythologized Cager as the “hero” of his tale. Meshach sets himself up as Cager’s antithesis, a hypocritical preacher who merely goes through the motions of faith. By writing this history, Meshach hopes not only to define his relationship to Cager but also to understand the meaning of his own life.

Carol Barry

Carol Barry, Meshach’s daughter, a serious young woman in her late twenties whose relationship with her father has been strained since her teenage years, when, as the narrator hints, he engaged in an incestuous relationship with her. Meshach desperately needs Carol as an audience for his story about Cager, but she has heard this story before and resents her father’s need to relive the past. Unable to cope with her father’s obsessive need to retell history, she finally rejects him.

Rollo Ezekiel “Cager” Lee

Rollo Ezekiel “Cager” Lee, the rebellious, doomed hero of Meshach’s narrative, portrayed as a messianic young man whose desire to improve the lives of his...

(The entire section is 557 words.)