Colours in the Dark

by James Reaney

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Characters Discussed

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Pa, the father, who can read palms and tell the color of things even while blindfolded. He also plays the man initiated into an understanding of his own life during the Sundog ritual. He is the cruel schoolmaster who whips the children for their faults in spelling, the wealthy and powerful executive who is the first to die in the Dance of Death, and the grocer who pulls a customer backward and forward through time by the string attached to her parcel. He recites the poem on the Royal Visit. He plays the teacher of the writing class and the student who baby-sits for the limbless young man.


Ma, the mother, who blindfolds the child suffering from the measles. She is the lawyer at the trial of the cruel schoolmaster and the announcer of the significance of the colors at the beginning of the “color” acts. She is the waspish antisuffragist mistress of the Winnipeg boardinghouse and also a girl boarder at the same boardinghouse. She is the Wind Lady, who dances with her rain doll, and the rich young lady whose swimming pool and vacations in Antigua cannot save her from the Dance of Death.


Gramp, the grandfather, the bear who threatens to eat the small berry-picking girl. He is also James McIntyre, the Ingeroll cheese poet. He is Mr. Winemeyer, the wise sculptor hermit. He is the aggressively pedantic Professor Button, who decries religious faith but whose knowledge of languages is no match for Bible Sal’s ability to speak in tongues. He plays Tecumseh in the schoolmaster’s trial, the Minister at the Christening, and the Death King in the Dance of Death scene.


Gram, the grandmother, a Sundog and the lady who initiates the father into a knowledge of himself at the Sundog ritual. She is Granny Crack and the old beggar woman who wanders the countryside and hangs out all the clothing of her life on a line. She is the music teacher, the old farm wife who ladles out horse soup, and the girl at the Winnipeg boardinghouse. She is also the Death Lady in the Dance of Death.


Son, the son, one of the boys on a bicycle trip who meets the reclusive Mr. Winemeyer and the judge at the trial of the cruel schoolmaster. He is the grocery boy, the accuser at the Sundog ritual, and the university student who is a friend of Bible Sal. He is also a boarder at the Winnipeg boardinghouse. He plays the young man with no arms and no legs who yearns for someone to accept and love him.


Niece, the daughter, the girl, and the Bride. She is also Bible Sal, whose religious devotion drives her to attempt to copy out the entire Bible. Bible Sal visits the lecture of Professor Button, a teacher of Old Testament studies at University College, University of Toronto. She counters his cynical faithlessness with a display of her ability to speak in tongues, a gift she did not previously know she had. She is also the maid at the Winnipeg boardinghouse.

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