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.)