The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Joe Trace, a middle-aged salesman, gains the reader’s sympathy despite his seemingly perfidious acts that begin the novel. A charming, avuncular man, trusted in his community, Joe nevertheless takes an eighteen-year-old girl as his mistress. He drifts into this unsavory behavior because of his wife’s emotional withdrawal and his own midlife melancholy, but also because he sees Dorcas as a needy, vulnerable girl whom he wants, in his own odd way, to protect. The reader feels sorry for Joe in the flashback passages when he is tracking Wild, his inaccessible mother; despite his grimmer purpose, Joe’s tracking of Dorcas, when he has lost control of their relationship and of himself, retains some of that pathos from earlier in his life.

Violet Trace is a fifty-year-old hairdresser who is hardworking but subject to spells of emotional derangement. The reader’s attitude toward Violet shifts from shock over her desperate violence at Dorcas’s funeral to sympathy when one learns of the traumas of Violet’s past, particularly her mother’s suicide. Ironically, after striking out in hate against Dorcas’s corpse, Violet then becomes preoccupied with the life of the dead teenager. Fortunately, Violet finds Alice Manfred to be the kind of caring maternal figure that Violet has missed having in her life, and with Alice’s help, Violet regains her emotional balance.

Dorcas, the catalyst for the most violent acts in the novel, is viewed differently by different characters. The narrator presents her as an emotionally damaged adolescent who chases the thrills of Harlem to escape her painful past, while on a deeper level she...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, never identified by name. Her voice and vision are always unmistakable. Like the neighborhood gossip, she sees, hears, and knows everything. What she does not know, she imagines, chastising herself when she is not as accurate or as reliable as she should be. She is the storyteller who must get the whole story right.

Violet Trace

Violet Trace, born in rural Virginia, the third of five children whose insane mother drowned herself in a well. Her father visited his family occasionally as he worked underground for a political party “that favored nigger voting.” His absence led to his family’s dispossession. She is reared for eleven years by her grandmother, whose Baltimore stories of the beloved blond-haired son of her mistress and a local African American boy corrupt Violet’s image of herself and her race. She marries Joe Trace and works the fields with him until they migrate north to Harlem. Twenty years later, she loses control over her actions and words, retreating into silence until a second Violet emerges to strike out at her husband’s dead girlfriend. By “killing” that Violet and befriending the dead girl’s best friend, Felice, Violet restores herself.

Joe Trace

Joe Trace, an orphan and a survivor. He says he remade himself eight times during his life, the last being one time too many. Joe is described as a handsome fifty-year-old, a nice, neighborly man who straightens the children’s toys in front of the apartment building, whom people let into their homes to sell...

(The entire section is 651 words.)

Characters and Culture

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Readers of Morrison's fiction have come to expect vital and engaging portraits of characters who bear some psychological wound, often the result...

(The entire section is 2080 words.)