The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

One of the most complicated and original characters to appear in African American literature is N’Gana Frimbo, the conjure-man. Frimbo’s complexity is revealed through the details offered by the author. Frimbo’s mysterious nature is emphasized initially. He is very dark and tall, and he wears long, flowing, silk dressing gowns. When he sees his clients, he usually has his head in a turban. His mysterious qualities are punctuated by his absolute coolness. He never gets emotionally wrought over anything, including the fact that someone tried to kill him. Although he dabbles in the occult and the unseen, he does so with the exactness of any modern scientist. In his character, therefore, Fisher melds modern Western ways of knowing the world with Frimbo’s African perceptions.

That Frimbo embodies both Western ideas and traditional African ones is made clear when he and John Archer spend a quiet evening together. Archer is trying to ascertain information about Frimbo that will help him solve the murder mystery, and Frimbo sees in Archer something of a kindred spirit. Like Archer, Frimbo is in his thirties, and he is also a man of science, psychology, and philosophy. Frimbo reveals to Archer something of his African background. Frimbo was king, or chief, of Buwongo, a tiny nation northeast of Liberia, before coming to the United States. As a child, he attended American missionary schools. That early educational experience is the reason he later decided to attend Harvard University. He shares several traditional African rituals with Archer, some of them potentially life threatening and painful, involving, for example, castration and beheading. As he tells this fragment from his life, there is pride in his voice and a longing for home. Archer observes a gentle and compassionate quality to Frimbo and wonders to himself if Frimbo could in fact be capable of murder.

Archer also notes that...

(The entire section is 781 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Archer

John Archer, a medical doctor in his middle thirties. He assists homicide detective Perry Dart in solving the “murder” of the conjure-man. He is tall, slender, light-skinned, usually composed, intellectual, and a student of science and human nature.

Perry Dart

Perry Dart, a homicide detective in his middle thirties, with a very dark complexion. He is the first of only ten African American members of Harlem’s police force to be promoted to detective. He is a Harlem native and knows its lowest dives and loftiest temples. He is small in stature but makes up for his size with the power of his investigative mind and insights. Like John Archer, he is a keen student of human nature.

N’Gana Frimbo

N’Gana Frimbo, a psychist and conjure-man, educated at Harvard. He is a philosopher and an avid reader of a wide range of philosophical and metaphysical texts. He is mysterious and apparently offers the sort of counseling and advice that his clients need, for he has many clients even though he does not advertise. He is a major player in solving his own murder. He, Dr. Archer, and Perry Dart have one thing in common, despite the apparent differences of their professions: They are all students of human nature.

Bubber Brown

Bubber Brown, a would-be private detective and codiscoverer of the body of the conjure-man. He is short and a little overweight. He...

(The entire section is 486 words.)