Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ursa Beatrice Mackenzie

Ursa Beatrice Mackenzie, the protagonist and narrator. The only child of a teacher from Connecticut and a prominent West Indian political leader, Ursa now lives in New York City after having spent her first fourteen years on the island of Triunion. Although she seems independent and successful, in fact everything about Ursa’s life is uncertain, from her future as a free-lance researcher to her relationship with her longtime lover, Lowell Carruthers, whom she trusts so little that she has an abortion without even informing him of her pregnancy. It becomes evident that Ursa cannot proceed with her own life until she has sorted out her feelings about her parents and her native island.

Estelle Beatrice Harrison Mackenzie

Estelle Beatrice Harrison Mackenzie, Ursa’s mother. An intelligent, idealistic young grade school teacher from Hartford, Connecticut, she falls in love with the personable Primus Mackenzie and commits her life to him and his Caribbean island. Their marriage is marred not only by Estelle’s repeated difficulties in carrying a child to term but also by her husband’s insistence on maintaining a mistress. When Ursa is still a baby, Estelle walks out, but she decides to remain in what she realizes is a flawed relationship with a flawed man.

Primus Mackenzie (The PM)

Primus Mackenzie (The PM), Ursa’s father, a personable lawyer, politician, and hotel owner on Triunion. Throughout his childhood, Primus is indulged and...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The novel begins in the 1980’s and is not a straightforward chronological account. Paule Marshall uses a variety of narrative techniques to tell her story. In the process of moving Ursa’s story forward, Marshall often relies on flashbacks to recount the lives of Primus, Estelle, Celestine, Viney, and Ursa. Marshall also uses an epistolary approach to reveal Estelle’s thoughts and experiences. She permits intimate looks at Celestine through her first-person accounts of her life, along with providing deeply personal narratives by Astral Forde.

In order to understand the present, readers must know a character’s past. His pampered and privileged upbringing has turned Primus into a domineering man. Ursa’s childhood memories of him are larger than life, recalling him as a man whose “head would be in the way of the sun.” Celestine’s complete and unquestioning devotion to him reinforces his behavior, much to Estelle’s dismay. Celestine will not accept Estelle’s American ways of doing things—wanting air conditioning and louvered windows, dressing her child in overalls with ducks on the bib rather than in starched pretty dresses and gold bangles, and transforming Mis-Mack’s store into an office where Primus can meet his constituents. She can even take Primus’s side in his long-standing affair with Astral Forde since, she rationalizes, all Triunion men have at least one “keep-miss.” Primus, however, is devoted to his wife and child. After wondering why Estelle did not leave her father when she discovered his affair with Astral, Ursa finally concludes that what she has “tried for years to understand about these two is perhaps none of her business.”

In her letters to the “homefolks,” Estelle provides an account of her life...

(The entire section is 724 words.)