Tucker Caliban, the “different drummer” who, by destroying his farm and departing with his family, precipitates the exodus of the black population from the fictitious southern state in which the story is set. The land previously belonged to the Willsons, the white clan that Tucker’s family had served even after emancipation. Tucker buys the land from David Willson, saying, “You tried to free us once, but we didn’t go and now we got to free ourselves.” Physically small, with a large head and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, Tucker often appears inscrutable to the other characters. His actions demonstrate an almost instinctive self-reliance. He refuses, for example, to support the National Society for Colored Affairs because he denies that anyone else can achieve his rights for him.
Bethra, Tucker’s wife, a tall, slim, and beautiful woman. Poised and intelligent, she had been working as the Willsons’ maid to earn money to finish college. Her college plans are dropped, however, when she falls almost girlishly in love with Tucker, and they marry. More educated than her husband, Bethra is at first embarrassed by his rejection of her friends’ civil rights causes, and she leaves him. She returns, however, in a week, having come to see the truth of his commitment to independent action. Dymphna Willson, who made Bethra her confidant, acknowledges that the black woman has taught her much about life.
Mister Harper, the town philosopher. A retired army officer, he went to West Point but, being too young for the Civil War and too old for World War II, never put into practice his military training. His son, however, was killed in World War II. Thereafter, feeling “knocked down by life,” he stayed in a wheelchair. From his porch, he dispenses analyses of the world’s chaotic events to townspeople who daily gather around. For example, he offers the “genetic” explanation for the exodus of the black people, telling the story of the near-mythic, prodigiously powerful, and elusive African who was Tucker’s ancestor. He leaves his wheelchair for the first time in thirty years to watch Tucker Caliban destroy his farm.
Harry Leland, a sharecropper. He admonishes his son for using the word “nigger”; in contrast with others in the town, he recognizes the need for adapting to change and for getting along with all kinds of people. Having been a sergeant in the Korean War, he theorizes that the black people are conducting a “strategic withdrawal,” a prudent action for which he admires them.
Harold Leland, called Mister Leland, Harry Leland’s son, an active eight-year-old with...
(The entire section is 1138 words.)