The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Marked by Fire’s people-centered society, characters speak in dialect. They use double comparisons such as “more deeper” to get across a point. Older women rehash the day while rocking on porches in the evening. Men do their gossiping at the barbershop, but people of both sexes seem to know everything there is to know about everyone else. Women help with birth and are involved in the care and discipline of children.

The heroine, Abyssinia Jackson, stands as a symbol of the universality of black experience. Long ago an African kingdom called Abyssinia became known as Ethiopia, a name derived from a root meaning “burned faces.” As a newborn baby, Abby was burned by a tiny ember which left a permanent scar on her face. In conjunction with the book’s title, her name suggests that all black people carry this mark of fire, even though the scar may not be visible.

Abby is a highly intelligent, musically talented daredevil who often gets into trouble. She watches films and soap operas on television and retells the folktales heard from her elders. Her physical description is somewhat sketchy. She has tiny hands and feet. She is neat, wears French braids in six separate plaits, and is skinny. Her parents are seen mostly through the eyes of others, and her father takes center stage, even though he disappears for a good part of the story.

Patience, Abby’s mother, can pick two hundred pounds of cotton in a day, is an...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Abby, the central character of the story, is the subject of the novel throughout. Her experiences and thoughts are recorded by the novelist so that readers always know what is proceeding with her development. Abby must survive in a world where events from nature—tornadoes, floods, and fires—continue to threaten her life and well-being. Yet two other members of the black community, Brother Jacobs and Trembling Sally, cause her the most harm. Essentially, Abby stands as an innocent, one who never commits more than playful mischief herself but who is victimized by the physical elements and by other persons. Her role is that of the sensitive thinker, one who does not escape evil and calamity, but who does succeed in dealing with these.

Mother Barker is the chief matriarch of the black community. She seems in charge of the other women at social events, and in her role as folk doctor commands special respect from all. Mother Barker’s essential goodness is portrayed to the reader through her actions: She is always ready to help others, particularly Abby, with her wisdom and medicine. She helps the young girl recover from the rape and then goes on to establish her in life. Mother Barker stands as a counterforce to Brother Jacobs and Trembling Sally.

Strong Jackson, Abby’s father, is an important character. A man of seeming dignity and integrity, his sense of humor is revealed through stories he relates at his barbershop. His importance in the...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Abyssinia (Abby) Jackson

Abyssinia (Abby) Jackson, a girl believed to hold special gifts because she was born in a cotton field during a tornado, in the midst of fire and water. Abby grows up as a favored child, surrounded by love, in Ponca City’s black community. Adults watch her small adventures with pride, even as they feel free to rebuke her for daydreaming or her raids on vegetable gardens. Abby reads the newspaper to elderly neighbors and sings at important church events. Her early childhood is almost idyllic, but in 1961 multiple tragedies shake her world and jeopardize her health. Her father leaves town in despair when a tornado destroys his barber shop. Abby aids Trembling Sally, a woman caught up in the same tornado; the woman blames Abby for her troubles and swears to make her suffer. Abby also is raped and beaten by Brother Jacobs, a dairyman. Bedfast and speechless for many months after the rape, she recovers her voice only when attacked by a swarm of wasps. Her beautiful singing voice does not return until she is an adult, although she always hears songs in her head. Abby graduates from high school with honors. She abandons plans to attend medical school when she agrees to become Ponca City’s new herb doctor and healer of troubled people.

Mother Barker

Mother Barker, Abby’s godmother, a folk-medicine healer who was the midwife at Abby’s birth. She takes a special interest in the young woman. She gives Abby her secret recipe for pound cake, hovers with medicines and benevolent rituals during her long convalescence, and finally...

(The entire section is 653 words.)