Dread Nation Characters
The main characters of Dread Nation include Jane McKeene, Katherine Deveraux, and Gideon Carr.
- Jane McKeene, a Black teenager, is the protagonist of the novel. Headstrong, fiercely independent, and skilled in combat, Jane bridles at the racist social expectation that she should take on a subordinate role.
- Katherine Deveraux is Jane’s prim and beautiful classmate. Though the two start out as rivals, they become friends after being forced to rely on one another in Summerland.
- Gideon Carr is one of the girls’ few white allies in Summerland. It’s eventually revealed that he is an Egalitarian who deeply disagrees with Summerland’s racist policies.
Last Updated on June 11, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1155
Jane McKeene is the Black, seventeen-year-old protagonist of Dread Nation , and the story is told from her first-person perspective. Jane's mother, whom she calls "Momma, is a wealthy white-passing landowner who spends all of Jane's life secretly living as a white woman. This creates a complicated dynamic—Jane...
(The entire section contains 1155 words.)
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Jane McKeene is the Black, seventeen-year-old protagonist of Dread Nation, and the story is told from her first-person perspective. Jane's mother, whom she calls "Momma, is a wealthy white-passing landowner who spends all of Jane's life secretly living as a white woman. This creates a complicated dynamic—Jane is much darker-skinned, and thus Momma can't publicly admit that she's her daughter. This leads Jane to be hyper-conscious of not just the overt white supremacist racism of her environment but also the colorism that exists in Black spaces, too.
When Jane is old enough, she's sent to a government combat school along with all the other Black children in the area. She's incredibly tough, driven, and smart, but she's also incredibly stubborn. She reads, sneaks out after dark, speaks out of turn, ignores rules, and generally chafes against the social expectation that as a Black woman, she must mind her "place." As a result, she often finds herself in trouble with whichever authority has power in a given scenario.
As the story progresses, Jane shows a great deal of personal growth in her relationships. Katherine, her accidental companion throughout most of the novel, starts as a sworn nemesis. Soon, however, the two forge a friendship based on trust that ultimately saves both of their lives.
Katherine "Kate" Devereaux
Katherine Devereaux, whom Jane usually refers to as "Kate," is a fellow student from Miss Preston's. At the start of the book, Jane resents Katherine immensely. Her grades are perfect, she's prim and proper, and—much to Jane's annoyance—she's light-skinned and exceptionally beautiful. At first, the two argue constantly, barely able to ride in the same carriage together. As the novel progresses, Jane and Katherine begin to develop a begrudging respect for one another that eventually matures into a close friendship.
As they get to know each other better, Jane learns that Katherine was raised in a brothel. This, she tells Jane, is why her career as an Attendant is so important to her, and why she struggles so much pretending to be a white debutante in Summerland—she watched her mother survive by constantly submitting to the whims of men, and she has no interest in doing the same.
Jackson / "Red Jack"
Jackson Keats, also known as "Red Jack," is a criminal from Baltimore and Jane's former love interest. Desperate to find his little sister, Lily, he asks Jane for help. This sets off the series of events that leads them to Summerland.
Jackson is incredibly charming and gregarious, but he's also conniving and dangerous. Jane struggles with her continued romantic interest in him, often reminding herself that there are plenty of nice men out there who don't instigate nearly as much trouble. Jane alternates between calling him Jackson and Red Jack, often depending on the context of the moment. When she's viewing him as her ex-lover, and someone to whom she is endeared despite their continued conflict, she calls him Jackson. When he's participating in something untoward, whether a criminal act or something more personal, she calls him Red Jack.
Gideon Carr (originally known only as Mr. Gideon) is the town tinkerer and one of Jane's closest allies in Summerland. A white Egalitarian who favors racial equity and progress, Gideon Carr's own vision after studying under Edison was to use electricity to facilitate mechanization. By using new technologies to perform the labor traditionally relegated to Black individuals, Gideon hoped to create a more equal society with better conditions for all. His father, Baltimore Mayor Abraham Carr, disagreed with this vision and sent him to Summerland, the Survivalist frontier town.
Though he's formally allied with the town's administration, Gideon consistently behaves protectively toward Jane and Katherine. When Jane's rations are cut, he gives her peaches. When she's whipped, he brings her salve. And when it becomes clear that the shambler threat to Summerland is much bigger than the sheriff admits, he's the one who warns them. Not unlike how she feels toward Jackson, Jane finds herself frustrated by her growing attraction to Gideon as the story progresses.
Ophelia McKeene, known for most of the book as "Momma," is Jane’s mother and a wealthy plantation owner from Kentucky. For the majority of the narrative, and for much of Jane's life, Momma is assumed to be a white woman with a soft spot for Black workers. She runs her plantation, Rose Hill, as a sort of safe haven, buying so-called "undesirable" workers and then employing them, for pay, in her fields.
Momma’s relationship with Jane is complex. When Jane, an unmistakably Black baby, is born, Momma cannot acknowledge her as her own daughter. Those who know of their secret relationship (including the reader) assume Jane is evidence of Momma's infidelity. Though she deeply loves Jane, Momma is also distressed by the threat Jane’s existence poses to her, at one point going so far as to attempt to drown her. Further context for their relationship is provided at the end of the novel, when it is revealed that Momma is actually a Black woman passing as white, who was herself once enslaved. This revelation shows that Jane’s true identity was concealed not because it is evidence of Momma’s infidelity, but because it is evidence of Momma’s charade, upon which the safety of Momma and the Black workers at Rose Hill depends.
Elias Snyder is the sheriff of Summerland and—alongside his father, the preacher—one of its de facto leaders. A self-interested and deeply racist individual, Sheriff Snyder treats Jane with cruelty and contempt but shows great favor and admiration to Katherine, whom he believes to be a beautiful and wealthy white woman. Though he’s tasked with protecting the town, the sheriff’s actions demonstrate that he cares more about maintaining power and validating his own beliefs than the safety of Summerland’s residents. Under his leadership, Black patrols are underfed, understaffed, and forced to use shoddy weapons, even though they are the town’s primary defense against shamblers. When a shambler horde descends upon the town, the sheriff refuses to tell people to evacuate, seemingly more concerned with his recent discovery that Katherine, the object of his affection, is actually Black than the imminent threat that approaches. In the final confrontation with the sheriff, Jane kills him, and the sheriff fatally wounds his father, the preacher, by accident.
Auntie Aggie is a member of Momma's staff, and throughout Jane's life she takes on the role of her protector. When the midwife tries to smother Jane at birth, Auntie Aggie intervenes. When Jane is five, and people start asking questions, Momma tries to kill her a second time. Again, Auntie Aggie intervenes. When Jane is taken to Miss Preston's by the truancy officers, Auntie Aggie sends Jane with a protective talisman: a lucky penny on a string, which Jane wears as a necklace.