The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The protagonist, Iola Leroy, is light-skinned enough to pass as white, but she refuses to do so, choosing instead to devote her life to the improvement of conditions for all African Americans. Iola is the daughter of a Creole plantation owner and one of his former slaves. Iola is sent to school in the North, but when she returns to the family estate, she discovers that her father has died suddenly of yellow fever, that her sister Gracie is near death, and that she and her mother have been reduced to the status of slaves. Iola is rescued from slavery by Union soldiers and becomes a nurse at a field hospital. After the war, Iola and her uncle search for their lost family, which is eventually reunited and moves to the North. Her experiences with discrimination even in the North, however, heighten her awareness of the race problem, and after she marries Frank Latimer, she chooses to return to the South with him to continue the struggle for racial uplift. Her steadfast refusal to pass as white and her devotion to the causes of African Americans are clear indications of the strength of her character.

Robert Johnson, Iola’s uncle, emerges as a leader in the novel’s first chapter, when, as one of the few literate slaves on the plantation, he provides information about the progress of the war. Robert joins the Union Army and becomes a lieutenant in a “colored company”; like his niece, he refuses to pass as white. Robert is an exceptionally admirable...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Iola Leroy Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Iola Leroy

Iola Leroy, a mulatto who refuses to pass into white society. She chooses instead to devote her life to “racial uplift” (advancement of black people) along with her black family members. Iola’s father is Eugene Leroy, a white Creole and owner of an estate on the Mississippi River. Her mother is Marie Leroy, a former slave of Eugene whom he sends north to be educated, marries, and brings back to his home as mistress of the plantation. When Iola returns from a northern school, she discovers that her father has died suddenly of yellow fever, that her sister Gracie is near death, and that she and her mother have been reduced to the status of slaves. Only her brother, Harry, who also was sent north, escapes this fate. Near the close of the Civil War, Iola is rescued from slavery by Union soldiers and becomes a nurse at a field hospital. After the war, Iola and her uncle, Robert Johnson, search for lost family members. Through a series of coincidences, they are all reunited—Harry, Iola, Marie, Robert, and Mrs. Johnson (Robert and Marie’s mother). With the exception of Harry, they all move north. Iola’s experiences with discrimination in the North heighten her awareness of the race problem. After marrying Frank Latimer, a black doctor from the South, Iola returns to North Carolina to continue the struggle for racial uplift.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson, Iola’s uncle and male counterpart in the novel. Robert emerges as a leader in the opening chapter, when, as one of the few literate slaves on the plantation, he provides...

(The entire section is 649 words.)