Damballah, 1981

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Lawson

John Lawson, who sometimes appears in the stories in the persona of Doot Lawson. Lawson is the grandson of John French and brother of Tommy Lawson. He returns to Homewood after teaching in Wyoming and learns many of its stories. Losing his individuation as he connects past with present and turns sadness into song, John is the “blues mind” who posits Homewood within a collectivity of ancestry and tradition. Finding a voice to tell his brother’s tale, John begins Damballah as an alien from his culture. Through stories and memory, he acquires the role of witness from Sybela Owens, the escaped slave at the root of the Lawson family tree, and Aunt May. He learns to listen and discovers himself occupying the place of griot.

John French

John French, the capricious grandfather of the narrator. French is a big, loud, gambling man who loves his family and friends. With Lionel Strayhorn and Albert Wilkes, French engages in rough camaraderie that gives him an undeviating moral sense of ritual that belies his poverty. He scavenges a large RCA Victrola and collects blues records. His records are destroyed by Carl French (his son), Lucy Tate, and their junkie friends during a drug frenzy. After his death, his family members scatter.