Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 569
Jack Jefferson, a black heavyweight boxing champion. A complex personality, Jack plays many roles in American society in the years preceding World War I. After defeating the white champion, he becomes the object of the establishment’s attempts to dethrone him by finding a Great White Hope. Jack is powerful, aware, and moody; he knows what is expected of him outside the ring, but he plays the role of the big, black buck, slow of speech and intelligence and lusting after white women, with obvious irony. He also has a self-destructive bent because he lives openly with his white lover, Ellie Bachman, despite the outrage and vindictiveness of both white and black forces. After being arrested for violation of the Mann Act, Jack escapes to Europe rather than face his sentence. During his exile, Jack deteriorates as a fighter and as a man, unable to establish a stable personality among the many roles he is forced to play: embittered exile, victim of racism, and self-deprecating actor-fighter. He expresses his increasing bitterness toward the persecuted Ellie, who is driven to suicide. In his remorse, Jack accepts the offer from Cap’n Dan to throw the fight against the Kid, the new Great White Hope, in exchange for amnesty. Overall, Jack remains an enigma, defined more by the swirling forces around him than by himself.
Ellie Bachman, the young white woman who becomes Jack’s lover and suffers the consequences of living with a black champion in a racist society. Ellie refuses to give up her relationship with Jack, saying that she loves him for his character rather than for the notoriety surrounding him. She proves her love by staying with him throughout his exile, but when she sees how totally Jack is consumed by his struggle against hostile social forces, she advises him to accept the fixed fight with the Kid. Jack belittles her for this advice, causing her to commit suicide. She leads a tragic life in pursuit of a doomed relationship with a complex, tortured man.
Cap’n Dan, a former heavyweight champion who is determined to restore the heavyweight crown to a white man. He convinces the former champion Brady to come out of retirement to fight Jack, but after Brady is easily defeated, Cap’n Dan joins with newsman Smitty, Chicago District Attorney Cameron, federal agent Dixon, and promoter Pop Weaver to have Jack arrested and later to force him to throw the fight with the Kid.
Smitty, a famous sportswriter who is outraged by Jack’s success as heavyweight champion and his relationship with Ellie. He is a calculating wordsmith, asking probing questions and writing inflammatory articles in an effort to discredit Jack.
Goldie, Jack’s white manager, who is devoted to promoting Jack’s career. Goldie sets the fight with Brady for July 4, knowing that Jack’s victory will bring him fame and money. Goldie also warns Jack not to flaunt his relationship with Ellie and to recognize the power of the hatred the white establishment has for him. Jack ignores Goldie’s advice, and during his exile he becomes estranged from his manager, who finally counsels Jack to accept the offer of amnesty in exchange for losing to the Kid.
Tick, Jack’s loyal trainer, who is with him throughout his career as a daily functionary but has no influence over the fighter.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2000
Eleanor (Ellie) is Jack’s white girlfriend and love interest. After meeting Jack on a boat returning from Australia, she follows Jack to San Francisco rather than returning to her home in Tacoma, Washington. She is good-natured and supportive but not a bit naïve about interracial relations. Ellie is aware of the challenges Jack faces as...
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