The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

At the beginning of the novel, McMillan provides a monologue for each of the main characters, Zora and Franklin, setting them up as two people looking to better themselves. Both want success, and both are lonely but afraid of being hurt as they have been so many times before. This information, in addition to that about their class differences, foreshadows the struggle ahead.

Franklin is a construction worker and carpenter, employed sporadically throughout the novel. His spells of unemployment and his inability to get ahead depress him and often lead to heavy drinking and verbal abuse of Zora. He is angry at everyone, white people and his mother in particular; both are forces in his life that he believes hold him back and keep him from succeeding. Conflicting with this are his emotions for Zora, whom he loves and for whom he wants to provide. When he finds he cannot, he sinks further into depression and violence. McMillan retains the reader’s sympathy for Franklin through his point-of-view chapters; the first-person voice gives the reader insights into both characters that would otherwise be missing. Since the novel is about the relationship, such intimacy propels it and develops both the characters equally.

Zora is college educated, and she is teaching music to junior high school students when Franklin meets her. She is ambitious; she writes her own music, plans to take voice lessons, and moves to Brooklyn in order to save money for her own...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Zora Banks

Zora Banks, the protagonist and one of the narrators, an independent teacher and talented singer who describes herself as a strong, smart, sexy, and good-hearted black woman. She has had experience with the destabilizing effects of heterosexual love and is wary of inviting another man into her life, but when she meets Franklin, she again sees an opportunity for happiness in a monogamous relationship. She enters into a romance defined by conflict, in which her autonomy is jeopardized continually by Franklin’s dominance. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son at Franklin’s urging, only to face escalating emotional and physical abuse. To a certain extent, she reclaims her independence and makes plans to return to her father’s home in Ohio with her baby, but when Franklin shows up again, she is clearly attracted and, hence, vulnerable to him even as the novel concludes. Zora is a developed character, rounded and complex. She faces the very real dilemma of wanting a loving marriage and family while not being sure of how much she must or should give up of her own autonomy and self-respect in order to secure that illusive ideal.

Franklin Swift

Franklin Swift, the other narrator, a handsome, intelligent, married high school dropout who works sporadically as a construction worker and drinks heavily. He has goals of getting a college education and owning his own business. Often out of work because of...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Franklin’s name alludes to Benjamin Franklin. Like that of his prototype, Franklin’s first-person voice is clear and self-confident as it gives his view of the novel’s events. Franklin Swift is self-educated, lives a healthy, spartan life, and dreams of owning his own business. The time is the early 1980’s, however, and his source of assistance, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office named “A Dream Deferred,” portends unfulfilled dreams. Hired by white construction companies under equal opportunity laws, Franklin is inevitably laid off, a victim of American racism. Though his voice sometimes belies it, Franklin suffers from the negativity that is the result of childhood attacks on his worth by his domineering mother.

Franklin’s frustrations resulting from external forces and internal wounds seriously affect his relationship with Zora. He admires her college education, her steady employment, and her Standard English, but he resents these, too, as his dreams burst. Though he admires Zora’s voice, he accuses her of preferring white songwriters and films about white people—accusations that stem from depression and self-pity. Franklin also believes that Zora should bear with him no matter how he acts, because he is a victim.

To some degree, then, Franklin is the voice of the beleaguered African American male, heaping his anger on the back of the enduring, resilient black woman. Franklin’s first-person voice, however, shifts too often to a manipulative, melodramatic, self-pitying whine. After the first months of their relationship, only occasionally, usually in his periods of economic plenty, does Franklin’s other voice, a confident and loving one, sound. Overall, his tone lessens a reader’s ability to connect with Franklin’s struggle.

When Franklin and Zora separate at last, he needs only a brief three-month separation to reappear a new man, no longer angry or violent. His first college course, psychology, has solved his...

(The entire section is 812 words.)