The Characters

The novel portrays slave owners such as Robbins and Townsend as conflicted and morally compromised characters, but it is the white sheriff, John Skiffington, who is perhaps the most complex character within the prevailing power structure. The sheriff is a decent man who declines to own slaves. When he and his wife are given a little black girl as a wedding present, they raise her instead as their daughter. Influenced by the prevailing attitudes of Manchester County, however, their unthinking, proprietary attitude toward the girl eventually alienates her. Similarly, the well-meaning Skiffington’s duties as sherriff of the county lead him into a horrific situation in which he ruthlessly murders a freed slave. Skiffington’s...

(The entire section is 367 words.)