Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 757
Seth Holly, the owner of a Pittsburgh boardinghouse, in his early fifties. A skilled craftsman born to northern free parents, he supplements income from his boarders with money made from making pots and pans, and he hopes to start his own business soon. On Sunday nights, he plays host to a Juba, a call-and-response dance reminiscent of the ring shouts of African slaves.
Bertha Holly, Seth’s wife for twenty-seven years, five years younger than he is. A kind, warm-spirited woman who cares for her boarders, she professes a faith in the healing powers of love and laughter.
Herald Loomis, a thirty-two-year-old searching for his long-lost wife, Martha. He comes to live at the boardinghouse. Dressed in a hat and a long wool coat, he has been roaming the countryside for four years with his daughter, hoping that contact with Martha will somehow bring him peace. A former deacon at the Abundant Life Church in Memphis, he was abducted and forced to work on a chain gang controlled by Joe Turner, the brother of the Tennessee governor, in 1901. His servitude, which lasted seven years, left him deeply anguished. Having worried Seth with his moodiness, Herald is told to leave the boardinghouse after he has a fit during a Juba. When he finally is reunited with Martha, he delivers their child to her, becoming increasingly agitated and bitterly expressing his lack of faith in Christianity. Slashing himself in the chest frees him from the trauma of his years of bondage and solitude and enables him to leave the boardinghouse a healthier man.
Martha Loomis Pentecost
Martha Loomis Pentecost, Herald’s twenty-eight-year-old wife. Five years after Herald was captured by Joe Turner and she was forced to leave their home, Martha gave up on him and traveled with her Evangelist church group to the North, leaving their child with her mother. She lived in Pittsburgh for three years before moving to Rankin with her church. Glad to be reunited with her daughter but alarmed by Herald’s behavior, she tries to persuade him to renew his faith in Jesus Christ.
Bynum Walker, a short, round man in his early sixties. He is a root worker or conjurer who performs pigeon-slaying rituals and supplies boardinghouse tenants with advice and charms. Exuding an air of wisdom and peacefulness, he consoles others with his insights into human nature. Confident that his “binding song” can bring people together, he himself seeks a mysterious “shiny man . . . One Who Goes Before and Shows the Way” whom he once encountered during his wanderings. Able to divine that Herald once labored for Joe Turner, Bynum notes that Herald himself is shining as he leaves the boardinghouse.
Mattie Campbell, a twenty-six-year-old engaged in an honest search for love and companionship. Abandoned by Jack Carper after their two babies die, she hopes that he will someday return to her. Born in Georgia and reared in Texas, she moves in with Jeremy Furlow. After his departure, she seems attracted to Herald and pursues him after he leaves the boardinghouse.
Jeremy Furlow, a boardinghouse resident. He is twenty-five years old, confident, and carefree. He is forced to leave his job as a road builder when he refuses to pay off a white extortionist. A proficient guitarist from North Carolina, he also earns money in local music competitions. After inviting Mattie Campbell to live with him, he becomes attracted to Molly Cunningham and leaves with her to see the world.
Molly Cunningham, about twenty-six years old, a tough and independent resident who does not love or trust others easily. She first appears wearing a fashionably colorful dress and carrying a small cardboard suitcase.
Rutherford Selig, a peddler. He sells wares...
(The entire section contains 2993 words.)
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