The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Brown’s characters show the dynamics of antebellum Southern society. He portrays African American women of biracial ancestry, the Southern slave-owning class, Northern white liberals, and the community of black bond servants.

Clotel’s characterization reflects the numerous conditions of bondage for biracial females in the nineteenth century. Her portrayal is used to suggest the ironies and contradictions of American democracy, in that she is presented as the daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Sixteen years old at the opening of the novel, Clotel is described by Brown as an attractive “quadroon” much sought after at “Negro balls” by white male gentry. The tragic course of her life begins with the breakup of her family, dramatizing the dehumanization of chattel slavery and the auction block. Clotel is also portrayed in a love relationship with Horatio Green, who purchases her as his concubine. Green’s rejection of Clotel in order to marry a white woman produces a deep emotional reaction in Clotel.

A concern for familial connections is a major part of Clotel’s characterization. Her longing to be reunited with her daughter Mary motivates Clotel’s escape, which ends in Clotel’s suicide when she is tracked down by slave catchers.

Currer, Clotel’s mother, also reflects a concern for family stability. Forty years of age when the novel begins, she is described by Brown as a mother whose principal concern is the advancement of her daughters. Currer realizes that advancement is based on physical appearance. Currer symbolizes the vicissitudes of bondage for aging African American mothers; she never loses sight of her mission to free her daughters and reunite her family.

Currer’s younger daughter, Althesa, who is fourteen when the novel opens, ends up in New Orleans, where she is sold in the slave...

(The entire section is 757 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Clotel, an attractive quadroon, sixteen years of age at the opening of the novel. She is Currer’s older daughter. She is purchased by Horatio Green, becomes his concubine, and gives birth to Mary. Clotel later is sold. She commits suicide after she escapes from her new owners and is captured by slave catchers in Washington, D.C.


Currer, a forty-year-old mulatto woman. Currer is the former housekeeper of Thomas Jefferson, who, according to the novel, fathered her two daughters. Currer and her daughters are sold in Richmond, Virginia. Separated from her daughters, Currer later dies of yellow fever in Natchez, Mississippi.


Althesa, the younger of Currer’s daughters, fourteen years old when the novel opens. Sold in the slave market of New Orleans, she marries Henry Morton and has two children, Ellen and Jane.

Horatio Green

Horatio Green, the white Virginian who purchases Clotel as his concubine.

The Reverend John Peck

The Reverend John Peck, the Methodist parson of Natchez who purchases Currer.

Georgiana Peck

Georgiana Peck, the Reverend Peck’s daughter. She believes in abolition and manumits her servants before her death.


Mary, Clotel’s daughter and a servant of Horatio Green and his wife. She eventually marries George Green.

George Green

George Green, a mulatto servant of Horatio Green who passes as white. He becomes romantically attached to Mary. After a separation, they reunite and marry in France.