Adah (AH-duh), the protagonist. A young Nigerian sociology student, she is a mother with middle-class aspirations who is separated from her husband and must rear her five small children, the oldest of whom is eight years old. A talented, qualified young woman, Adah is caught in the machinery of the British welfare state and is inexorably pauperized and humiliated.
The landlord, a mean-spirited and hostile man. Like Adah, he and his wife are Nigerians, but of the Yoruba tribe. A council tenant himself, he illegally sublets a squalid room in his council flat to Adah and her five children, informing the council that Adah is a relative and only a guest. He exploits Adah by charging her double rent because he wants to make money from his flat to pay for his studies. He also terrorizes her and her children with his daily “juju” escapades.
Mrs. Devlin, a kindly Irish woman who lives above the landlord’s flat. A mother of two sons, she looks out for Adah and speaks out against the landlord’s and the council’s exploitation of Adah’s desperation.
Whoopey, a mama’s girl of feckless optimism. The lonely, dependent single mother of two children has lived with her mother, Mrs. Cox, and sister at the Pussy Cat Mansions all her life. Despite her dependence and her love of alcohol and bars, Whoopey and Mrs. Cox become Adah’s most constant companions and friends, providing cushioning comfort and easing her into the society of “ditch dwellers,” those living on welfare. A classic example of the characteristic dependency in the welfare system, Whoopey falls deeper in the ditch, still lacking prospects and initiative at the end of the novel.
Mrs. Cook, a Jamaican ditch-dweller and mother of five children. Hers is one of the Mansions’ very few so-called problem families with an active father present. With dignity, she extricates her family from the cycle of dependency by choosing to do without welfare assistance, going back to work, and moving her family of seven from council housing into a two-room flat to save five pounds a week.
The Smalls, a quarrelsome family consisting of Mr. Small, his wife, and...
(The entire section is 544 words.)