Come Out the Wilderness

by James Baldwin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There are not many characters in James Baldwin's story "Come Out the Wilderness," but they are as follows:

Ruth Bowman is the story's protagonist. She is a 26-year-old African American woman living in Manhattan with her boyfriend and is originally from the country. She works at an insurance firm downtown, and the entire story is told from her perspective via a third-person narrator.

Paul is Ruth's live-in boyfriend. He is a young white painter from an impoverished city background, struggling to sell his art. He and Ruth fell in love some years prior to the story, but there is some unspoken tension between them now. Ruth is convinced that he is simply biding his time until he leaves her; however, he seems to still be in love with her.

Mr. Davis is Ruth's boss at the insurance firm. He is assumed to be a bit older than Ruth but is still a relatively young African American man. During the story, he asks her to move up the company chain and work as his personal secretary. That same day, he takes Ruth out to lunch, trying to get to know her better. However, the interaction leaves Ruth feeling guilty, as it seems he is romantically interested in her.

Cosmo is Paul's "artist" friend who we never actually meet. Paul often goes out drinking with Cosmo, and Ruth neither likes nor trusts him.

Ruth's brother remains unnamed. However, he played a big role in Ruth's decision to leave home, as he accused her of sleeping with a boy in their barn when they were teenagers. Though Ruth didn't actually sleep with the boy, she was forced by her father to repent, and this caused an irreparable tear in her and her brother's relationship.

Arthur was Ruth's first live-in boyfriend in New York City who we never meet. He is a young African American musician. He and Ruth lived together for about four years. He was very dominating, and she did not love him, but she was too scared and insecure to leave him sooner.

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