Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1393
God, who is seen through the eyes of an elderly black preacher as the tallest and biggest of the angels. Dressed in evening clothes and speaking in a rich, bass voice in black dialect (which all the characters use), He participates in human activities such as attending fish fries and working in His office. He also makes human mistakes; for example, when in need of some “firmament” to season his boiled custard, He creates too much and wets the cherubs’ wings, so He must pass a miracle to get rid of the excess “firmament.” He creates Earth to drain off the excess and then creates Adam to farm and enjoy the earth. As an elderly minister’s simple view of an Old Testament God, He interacts with the angels and humankind as a God of power, love, and wrath until, at the end of the play, He realizes that He must also be a God of mercy gained through suffering and must send Jesus to earth.
Gabriel, the second-in-command angel and God’s principal assistant. He is young, big, beardless, and elaborately winged. He is the one to whom God talks about His frustrations, especially with humankind’s sinfulness. Gabriel keeps his trumpet ready to blow whenever God commands. His practicality offsets the idealism and passion of God.
Moses, a shepherd and fugitive from Egypt, living in a cave in the mountains to escape prosecution for killing a man in Egypt. He is about forty years old but ages into an old man two scenes later. He dresses inconspicuously and stutters slightly until God cures this problem. After seeing a burning bush that is not consumed, Moses is told by God that it is a magic trick and that God will teach him to perform such tricks for Pharaoh as a means of coercing Pharaoh into freeing the Hebrew people. Moses requests that his brother Aaron be allowed to go with him; God agrees. They “trick” Pharaoh with plagues until he releases the Hebrews, whom Moses leads to the Promised Land. There he turns them over to Joshua, then dies and goes to Heaven.
Noah, a preacher, a basically good man to whom God appears, first as a fellow preacher, then revealing Himself to be God. Noah first appears in the dress of a preacher, then as a steamboat captain. He rules his family but obeys God, building an ark and taking aboard his family, two animals of each species, and one keg of liquor. When he brings the ark to a successful landing, he is forgiven by both God and his family for getting drunk.
Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, wearing a crown and garments like those worn by a high officer in a black lodge ritual. He is vindictive and hates the Hebrews, retaining magicians and wizards to devise means of pestering and intimidating them.
King of Babylon
King of Babylon, the equivalent in Babylon to Pharaoh in Egypt, wearing a diamond tiara and an ermine cloak over evening clothes. Like Pharaoh, the king is a tyrant, enslaving the Jews and buying whatever favors he desires, including bribing the Hebrew High Priest to ask God’s forgiveness for killing a Hebrew prophet.
Cain, a husky young black man, a field laborer who is discovered to have killed his brother. He takes God’s advice to leave the country and find someone to marry and raise a family with, but his choice displeases God.
Cain’s girl, who is wickedly pretty and flashily dressed. She is as large as Cain and lives in Nod Parrish. She flirts with Cain, declares herself to be Cain’s girl, and takes him home with her.
Zeba, a rouged and very flashily dressed prostitute of about eighteen, the great granddaughter of Seth (the son of Adam), and the girlfriend of both Cain the Sixth and Flatfoot. She is flippant with God, lies to Cain the Sixth, and, appearing with Flatfoot to ridicule Noah for building the ark, incites the jealousy of Cain the Sixth. She represents the depths to which humankind has sunk since God created Adam.
Cain the Sixth
Cain the Sixth, a stylishly dressed, egotistical young man with a quick temper who wears a “box” coat and other flashy garments. He is impudent and dangerous. He kills Flatfoot, whom he finds with Zeba. He appears with gamblers at Noah’s ark and touts Noah as foolish. He represents the continuance of degradation from the first Cain.
Aaron, a field hand and brother of Moses. He is a little taller than Moses and slightly older. Like Moses, he appears as an old man two scenes later. As a younger man, he helps Moses play God’s “tricks” on Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews to the Promised Land. As an old man entering Canaan, he is commissioned by Moses to care for the Ark of the Covenant.
Hezdrel, a Hebrew soldier in the end of Old Testament times. Appearing in part 2 of the play, he is played by the same actor who played Adam in part 1. Hezdrel is shown standing in the same position that Adam held when first discovered. He is engaged in battle with the Hebrews against the forces of Herod. Hezdrel tells God, who appears to him in the form of a preacher, that he fights unafraid because of his faith in the God of Hosea, a god of mercy. Hezdrel, like Hosea, knows mercy through suffering. This revelation leads to the climax and denouement of the play.
Adam, God’s first human creation, a thirty-year-old man of medium height. He is muscular and wears the clothes of a field hand. He talks with God, accepts Eve as a wife, and is drawn to the tree of knowledge, from which God has forbidden him to eat.
Joshua, a scout for the Hebrews, a handsome man about thirty years old. He is assigned by Moses to lead the army into Canaan and to capture the city of Jericho.
Archangel, the principal angel next to Gabriel, older than the other angels, wearing a white beard, darker clothing, and larger wings. He is the head deacon angel, giving Sunday School cards and diplomas to the cherubs and telling the choir what and when to sing.
Noah’s wife, an elderly black woman, simply and neatly dressed, representing the good woman: polite, hospitable, and a good wife and mother.
Japheth, sons of Noah, obedient and loyal, who help Noah load and sail the ark.
Zipporah, the wife of Moses, somewhat younger than him, dressed inconspicuously. Like Noah’s wife, she demonstrates a good relationship between husband and wife, and her conversation with Moses provides necessary expository information.
Flatfoot, a former drug pusher. He is tall, arrogant, and wicked looking, and he is a lover of Zeba. His killing elicits no remorse from the crowd around Noah’s ark.
Prophet, a patriarchal, ragged figure who denounces the sins of the Babylonians and their king and of the Hebrews. Preaching repentance, he is killed on orders of the king.
High Priest, a fat voluptuary dressed in elaborate, brightly colored robes. He arrives at the Babylonian “nightclub” with a prostitute, is denounced by the Prophet, and takes a bribe from the king to “pray” for God’s forgiveness for killing a Hebrew prophet.
Mr. Deshee, an elderly country preacher in Louisiana who teaches Bible lessons to Sunday School children in a black church. It is his interpretation of God and the Heaven and earth of the Old Testament that forms the play within the play. He introduces the play and provides exposition.
Eve, Adam’s wife, twenty-six years old and very pretty. She is dressed like a country girl in a new, clean gingham dress. She appears primarily to complete Adam and imply the entrance of sin.
Head Magician, the henchman of Pharaoh who carries out Pharaoh’s dirty work. He is a very old and villainous man, costumed in a robe covered with cabalistic and zodiacal signs.
Master of Ceremonies
Master of Ceremonies, the henchman of the king of Babylon who conducts the king’s dirty work and runs a type of “nightclub” in Babylon.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 938
Adam is the first man created by God to inhabit the newly created Earth and to cultivate the land. Adam is at first puzzled by his existence. He is described as a man ‘‘of thirty, of medium height, dressed in the clothing of the average field hand.’’ God decides that Adam needs a family because ‘‘in yo’ heart you is a family man.’’ After Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit, they are thrown out of the Garden of Eden.
An Archangel appears at the ‘‘fish fry’’ in Heaven. He is described as older than the other angels and has a white beard. His clothes are ‘‘much darker . . . and his wings a trifle more imposing.’’
Cain is a son of Adam and Eve. When God comes down to Earth, he finds that Cain has just slain his brother, Abel, by hitting him on the head with a rock because, he claims, Abel had been making a ‘‘fool’’ of him. God tells Cain that he has committed a crime. He tells Cain to go as far away as possible. After traveling for a long time, Cain takes up with a country girl that he meets along the way.
Mr. Deshee is the preacher who teaches Sunday school to the children in a Louisiana town. He tells them the story of the first five chapters of Genesis, then takes questions from the children. This opening scene frames the rest of the play, which is an enactment of biblical stories.
Eve is created by God so that Adam will have a family with whom he can live. Eve is described as ‘‘about twenty-six, and quite pretty.’’ Her costume is that of ‘‘a country girl,’’ with a gingham dress that is ‘‘quite new and clean.’’ After they have eaten the forbidden fruit and are thrown out of the Garden of Eden, she and Adam have two sons, Cain and Abel.
Gabriel is God’s right-hand man. He is described as ‘‘bigger and more elaborately winged than even the Archangel,’’ but younger and without a beard. His costume is ‘‘less conventional than that of the other men’’ and is likened to the drawings of Gabriel by the artist Doré.
God is ‘‘the tallest and biggest’’ of all the inhabitants of Heaven. His costume includes ‘‘a white shirt with a white bow tie, a long Prince Albert coat of black alpaca, black trousers, and congress gaiters.’’ His voice is described as ‘‘a rich bass,’’ and he speaks in a southern black accent, as do all the characters. God created the Earth to drain off the excess ‘‘firmament’’ that resulted from a certain miracle. He runs Heaven from a desk in a shabby-looking office, with the help of Gabriel.
At the play’s end, the Christian God turns out to be the same God as the Hebrew God, but seen from a different perspective by human beings. The difference between the old and the new perceptions of God is that the new is seen as more merciful. As the play ends, God, sitting in Heaven, decides to send down Jesus Christ to demonstrate to people a God who both suffers and is merciful.
Moses is chosen by God to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land of Canaan, which God has set aside for them. Moses goes with his brother Aaron to see the Pharaoh in his throne room. They demonstrate several ‘‘magic’’ tricks (with the help of God) in which they cause flies, and then gnats, to descend upon the Pharaoh’s court. Each time, Moses vows that he will not call off the pests unless the Pharaoh promises to free the Jews from bondage in Egypt. Finally, the Pharaoh’s son is brought to him dead, and the Pharaoh agrees to let the Jews go.
After leading his people out of Egypt, and leading them as they wander in the desert for forty years, Moses dies of old age just as they reach the Promised Land of Canaan. As God has foretold, Moses reaches the river Jordan, but is too old and sick to accompany his people into the city of Jericho. Moses appoints Joshua to succeed him. God then appears to Moses to show him that his people have won the battle over Jericho, and leads Moses to Heaven.
Noah, ‘‘a country preacher,’’ meets God while walking along a road. He thinks that God is also a preacher, and tells him that the land is full of sinful, faithless people. Noah then invites God home to dinner with his wife. Over dinner, God reveals who he is, and draws up the plans for Noah to build an ark, warning him of the flood that he will send to wipe out all the sinful people who inhabit the Earth. Noah obeys God’s wishes, building the ark and bringing his family, as well as two of every kind of animal, aboard the ark. After forty days and nights, Noah and his family find dry land where they release the animals and plant the seeds they have brought.
The Pharaoh is visited in his throne room by Moses and his brother Aaron, who come to demand that he free the Jews from bondage. The Pharaoh refuses until his son is brought to him dead, after which he agrees to let them go.
Zeba is the great-great granddaughter of Seth. She is one of the sinners whom God meets along the road. Zeba is entirely invented by Connelly and does not actually appear in the Bible.