Cassie is old enough to understand segregation and the realities of African American life in 1930’s Mississippi. She is bright and curious, characteristics reflected in her desire to learn about the Mississippi constitution. Proud of her race, she despises her mulatto cousin who thinks of herself as white. However, the execution of her friend T.J., her brother’s running away from home, the racial hostility she experiences, and the problems of the Depression take an emotional toll on her. Her parents’ nurturing of her pride and self-respect and her close family ties, however, give her the strength she needs.
Papa, Cassie’s father, is an old-fashioned disciplinarian but also a hardworking and considerate father. He tries to support his family by working on their small farm, but he is faced with a constant struggle against poverty. He is forced to take out-of-town work, but he manages to stay two steps ahead of Harlan Granger, who is determined to annex the Logan property through deception.
Mama, Cassie’s mother, is the daughter of a sharecropper who was once a school-teacher. She lost her teaching job because she supported a boycott against the Wallaces, who ran the store on the Granger plantation. Mama assists students with evening lessons, works hard to help sustain the family, and runs the farm in Papa’s absence.
Stacey, the Logans’ eldest son, is devastated by T.J.’s execution; his father’s departure from home further depresses him. Stacey is not able to deal with his emotional problems as effectively as his sister does, and he runs away, leaving his family to undertake a long search for him.
Harlan Granger, the Logan family’s chief antagonist, is the most powerful of the four major white landowners in the county. He thrives in an environment of segregation and prejudice, gets special treatment from the sheriff, and is hated by the poor people of the county. He is envious of the Logans’ property, and he makes repeated, dishonest attempts to annex it to his own much larger estate.
David Logan (Papa) is a fully human man with a strong sense of values and strength of character that have earned him the love and respect of his family and his community. While fortunate to have acquired four hundred acres of land, he is never arrogant or indifferent to the needs of his less fortunate neighbors. He possesses the wisdom to know when and how to speak up and when to remain silent. Although he is a thoroughly admirable character, his goodness never seems contrived or artificial.
Mary Logan (Mama) is the author’s mouthpiece for voicing her feelings about the unjust treatment of blacks in the 1930’s. Moreover, Mama is a warm, loving mother who wants her children to understand what it means to be black in a white-dominated world and to learn to deal with it. She believes in education and in self-improvement, and she hopes that one day the children will be spared the racial discrimination she has known.
Cassie, a fifth-grader at the beginning of the story, experiences the gamut of feelings that a young girl coming into adolescence has. Capable of hurt feelings and jealousy, she is also sensitive: to harmonica music, to T. J., even to Suzella at times. She is clever; in a game of marbles, she plots to win the prize blue one, risking punishment afterward since Papa has said that “marbles might lead to gambling.” She feels the sting of being treated like a child by her eldest brother when he becomes a teenager.
Stacey is a lovable, serious-minded preteen. He feels a responsibility to family, even to the point of sacrificing his own comfort and disobeying and worrying his parents in order to try to help them. He shows courage in taking the necessary risks to do what he feels is right.
Wade Jamison is a truly sympathetic character. Though shunned by other white people in the community for trying to get justice at T. J.’s trial, he has a genuine sense of justice. He faces reality squarely, however; he knows that his just...
(The entire section is 1,429 words.)