The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Characters in the Homewood trilogy are three-dimensional with a vengeance, but readers may not always be able to fathom their depth. Because several central characters exist in each of the works, they can be comprehended from multiple perspectives. Wideman’s focus is on the interior life, the thoughts and feelings of characters struggling to get through their lives. Action and incident are incidental to the interior experiences of characters caught up in them.

Tommy in Hiding Place, for example, is a man on the run, not only from the police but also from his responsibilities as husband and father. Much of the novel takes place in his head as he struggles with his past and tries to figure out a future. Likewise, Brother Tate in Sent for You Yesterday has been silent since the death of his son Junebug and remains so until his own violent death sixteen years later. He is rendered in multiple viewpoints through thought, memory, and dream. Throughout the trilogy, family members appear and disappear, shedding light on each other and themselves. As Doot muses about himself in Sent for You Yesterday, trying to get a handle on his own family history,Carl’s sister Lizabeth’s first child. John French’s first grandson. John French my first daddy because Lizabeth’s husband away in the war. By the time Carl and my father returned from the Pacific, I was big enough to empty the spittoon which sat beside Daddy John French’s chair.

The most problematic character, but the one who is the key to the rest, is the persona of the narrator, the multiple John Edgar Wideman character who appears at various times in the three works as Doot, John, and others. He is the writer brother of Tommy who—like Wideman himself—has fled the violent urban East for the relative security of Wyoming. In the course of the three works, he returns and discovers the values of his family and community. One of the central themes of the Homewood trilogy is this reconciliation of the John/Doot character with his family home.