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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Paul-Edward Logan is the controlling voice in the novel, but paradoxically, as the narrator he often communicates through “silence.” Numerous times in the novel, Paul states that “I said nothing” or he refuses to respond to insults, probing questions, and gratuitous advice. Through his silence, Paul maintains his power and his privacy. Even with his eventual wife Caroline, he seems to communicate with understanding nods. This refusal to reveal himself creates the character that is Paul. Readers feel and know his pain most when he describes his silence or inability to speak. The novel seems to promote a reality that is comprehended through silence, compassion, and understanding. There are no impassioned speeches in the novel. There is action, and there is silence.

Caroline Perry acts as an independent and defiant counterpart to Paul. From his first observance of her—when she berates some white boys for taunting a little black boy—to his falling in love with her no-nonsense demeanor, Paul has met his match. The foil character to Paul is Mitchell Thomas, who through his temper and unguarded license with words brings about his own downfall. Mitchell acts as a contrast to Paul, who utilizes his self-control, his silence, and his mental powers to thwart and outsmart white characters.

Edward Logan represents the paradox of the Reconstruction period in the United States. A white man who tries to “protect” his illicit black children while training them to live and survive in a white man’s world, Logan is at once a seer and a limited man. He is understandably shackled by the social strictures of his day, yet he does not have the inner fortitude to truly defy them for the sake of his children. Perhaps Taylor is indicating a sad and sorry truth about the nature of race in late nineteenth century America.