Rowena (Rena) Walden
Rowena (Rena) Walden, the beautiful, young heroine of mixed race, whose skin is sufficiently light for her to pass as white. Reared as a black child in the small town of Patesville, Rena resigns herself to the limitations of her existence until the unexpected reappearance of her brother John. At his invitation, Rena joins him in South Carolina, where she passes for white, attends a white finishing school, is accepted into Charleston society, and falls in love with George Tryon, a chivalrous young white man. Idealistic and intelligent, Rena enjoys the freedom of her new situation but is troubled by the deception that she must practice to hide her background. Torn between her past and the bright promise of her future with Tryon, Rena risks discovery by rushing to her mother’s sickbed in Patesville. When her secret is revealed and Tryon abandons her, Rena accepts a position as a teacher at a rural black school, but the lecherous advances of Jefferson Wain make her short stay there unbearable. The strain increases when Rena realizes that the school is located near Tryon’s estate. In the end, the pressure breaks Rena. Deathly ill, she is returned to her mother’s home by the faithful Frank Fowler and dies just before Tryon returns to attempt a reunion.
George Tryon, Rena’s fiancé, an aristocratic white Southerner from North Carolina. Handsome, athletic, wealthy, and intelligent, Tryon takes pride in his independence, congratulating himself for being a tolerant and “liberal” man. A romantic, Tryon falls in love with Rena the moment he sees her and swears that he has no interest in her family background. His liberality fails him, however, when he is confronted with Rena’s black heritage. Although Tryon abandons Rena and resumes his courtship of Blanche Leary, he is unable to bury his feelings for Rena. At the novel’s end, he rushes to Patesville, apparently ready to stand up to societal prejudices, but discovers that...
(The entire section is 822 words.)