The Chosen Place, the Timeless People Characters

Paule Marshall

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As Marshall has stated, many of the characters in The Chosen Place, the Timeless People serve as individuals and as symbols. Harriet represents the controlling WASP; Merle, the voice of Bournehills; and Lyle, the liberal who sells out. Marshall also tends to present her characters as opposites: She uses a “them and us” approach that furthers her political message. The Bournehills people are separated from the New Bristol people in geography (“the ridge divided Bourne Island into two unequal parts”), in color (black and “red”), and in attitude (the Bournehills people refuse to change their Carnival performance and cling to the past). There are even divisions among the people of New Bristol, where the elite from the Crown Beach Colony exploit the less fortunate.

The characters are also pitted against one another economically. The exploitative white colonial class is represented by Sir John Stokes, “dressed as if for a safari,” who callously observes at the cane factory, “It’s always a bit of a shock, don’t you know, to realize that the thing that sweetens your tea comes from all this muck.” The “little fellas,” Ferguson and Stinger, are in direct opposition to the wealthy. Between these groups is Lyle Hutson, whose house, a bizarre clash of traditional and modern taste, reflects his divided nature. He is committed to money, not to people. His womanizing also reflects his desire to exploit without responsibility. Erskine...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Saul and Harriet Amron are part of Marshall’s purpose to provide a comment on the American role in developing countries. While much is heard about the project, very little is seen of it being worked out in practice. Saul functions as a sympathetic observer. He is a committed intellectual who has worked all of his life in underdeveloped countries and has acquired a pragmatic confidence in his ability to understand and improve them. Saul has the wisdom to learn patiently about the habits and needs of the peasants of the island and about the rhythms of the land and life there. It is his patience that earns him the respect he needs to proceed with his mission. Eventually, it becomes clear that he might not understand the island and its people as much as he had thought. As one of his last acts on the island, Saul helps to put together an organization of workers. Though he is not able to see the union fully launched, there is the strong prospect that it will continue after he has left the island.

Through his involvement with Merle, Saul Amron comes to understand the relationship between the native and the colonial government. He stands up for the islanders’ rights and tries to help them overcome their economic difficulties. Saul’s position in the novel is ironic; although he is a representative of the white patriarchy, he is also, as a Jew, a member of a group that historically has been victimized. This irony is broadened following the revelation that his wife, Harriet, is heir to a shipping company that was actively involved in the slave trade.

Harriet functions in the novel as the quintessential white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Harriet, who was instrumental in getting her husband the Bournehills assignment, promises to keep out of his way on the expedition, but she subtly tries to control him. As his experience in Bournehills takes him further from her emotionally, she is threatened. Knowledge of his brief affair...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Saul Amron

Saul Amron, a veteran anthropologist and expert field worker in Third World countries. He leads a research group of Bournehills, on a Caribbean island. Sensitive, caring, and willing to listen, he acquires an understanding of the island people. Recruited from a teaching position at Stanford University, he reluctantly agrees to return to fieldwork; his first wife, a Holocaust survivor, died of a miscarriage in Honduras on his last field trip. In many ways, the Bournehills trip is an attempt to atone for his perceived failures, but he meets with limited success at Bournehills.

Harriet Amron

Harriet Amron, his wife, heiress to a Main Line Philadelphia family fortune founded on the slave trade and the exploitation of the Bourne Island people. After her divorce from a nuclear scientist, she meets, seduces, and marries Saul, then secures his research post with an organization funded largely by her family fortunes. She functions as the quintessential WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant), intent on control. Although Saul warns her not to interfere, she does, and then she becomes increasingly isolated. When she learns of Saul’s affair with Merle Kinbona, she succeeds in having him recalled to Philadelphia. When he tells her the marriage is over, she commits suicide.

Merle Kinbona

Merle Kinbona, a descendant of the white plantation owner and owner of the only guest house in...

(The entire section is 579 words.)