The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Some reviewers have argued that the novel has essentially only one real character, Dorine Davis, and that the book’s other characters serve merely as foils designed to underscore by contrast her unconquerable vitality and resilience. This, however, is not a weakness but rather a strength. In Dorine Davis, Rosa Guy has created a forceful portrait of a woman pulled between the competing demands of love and personal autonomy.

On one hand, there is her need to be physically close to a man, a longing tempered by distrust. Her first sexual experience is not a positive one. She is raped by her white employer, Master Norton. Her subsequent relationship with Sonny also brings more pain than happiness. No matter how hard she tries to make a home for the two of them, Sonny will not be tied down. These early experiences may account for her sexual aggressiveness in later life. She fears lack of control. It is she who stalks Big H and arouses his interest by performing a seductive dance; it is she who seduces Harry Brisbane in Central Park in a wooded area that she has chosen in advance for the occasion.

At times both complementary and antithetical to her quest for male companionship is Dorine’s desire for some control over her own life. This longing is objectified in her approach to personal finances. Even as an eight-year-old girl compelled to work in white people’s kitchens, Dorine coerces her grandmother into allowing her to retain ten cents of the quarter she earns per week. That dime gives her self-respect and independence.

Even as an adult, she never relinquishes the purse strings, not even for the men in her life. Dorine always keeps an eye on her money.

In this regard, Miss Fanny, Master Norton’s wife and the richest white...

(The entire section is 725 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dorine Davis

Dorine Davis, a saucy, free-spirited, hardheaded woman who plays both sides of the law. Reared by her grandmother, Dorine is hired out to do housework. At the age of ten, she is sent to work for a white man, Master Norton, who sexually molests her. Her family’s inability to protect her makes Dorine realize that she must make her own way. She saves her money earned from housecleaning and performing sexual favors, a financial pattern she establishes in youth and follows as a young adult in Cleveland; only when she moves to New York City with her boyfriend, Sonny, does she hope to free herself by their making a life together. With the failure of this scheme, however, Dorine turns to a life of professional shoplifting, or “boosting,” confidence tricks, and nightclub management. Always a self-proclaimed “doer” rather than a “dreamer,” she ends up in wistful reverie over Harlem in its heyday and her youth.


Sonny, a natural hustler and Dorine’s great love. He meets her in Cleveland when he is twenty-five and she is fourteen. For a time, he is Dorine’s lover and pimp, but Sonny soon makes it clear that he cannot be domesticated. All shiny surface, Sonny pops in and out of Dorine’s life; unknown to him, he has already fathered a son by her. When he dies from a heart attack, Sonny is eulogized as “Mr. Harlem.”

Big H

Big H, a “bookish” club owner and...

(The entire section is 413 words.)