The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Without a traditional plot or an extensive dramatic thread to carry readers through the novel’s many scenes of urban despair, The Messenger attains its meaning primarily through Wright’s portrayal of the insights and recollections of Charlie, the novelist’s autobiographical protagonist and first-person narrator. Although the novel presents a collection of other characters, these characters tend to exist in relation to Charlie. They are significant to the degree that they shed light on aspects of Charlie’s personality or experience. The artistic impulses of the little girl, Maxine, and the hopefulness of Charlie’s girlfriend, Shirley, for example, present points of contrast to Charlie’s life of poverty, hopelessness, and loneliness. His white friend Troy is similarly important to the novel primarily as an illustration of how difficult even the most well-intentioned relationships can be between members of different races in a society not comfortable with integration.

Wright uses the reportorial style often associated with American novelist and short-story writer Ernest Hemingway to depict how Charlie’s feelings have become numbed by his exposure to scenes of pain and humiliation. Charlie responds in an almost frozen way to scenes of intensely painful content and heavy emotion. The juxtaposition of this objective style with the scenes of terror being depicted is Wright’s method of conveying to readers Charlie’s alienation from the...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Charlie Stevenson

Charlie Stevenson, the protagonist, an introspective twenty-nine-year-old African American veteran of the Korean War. He lives in the subterranean junkie world of New York City. Although he works as a messenger for a service in Rockefeller Center, his passion is for reading great literature with the hope of one day producing his own written works. Born in Sedalia, a small Missouri town, he was reared by his maternal grandparents after his mother died; his father had abandoned the family earlier. Charlie has spent his life since the age of fourteen wandering across America in search of a home.


Shirley, the woman Charlie once hoped to marry. Her optimism about life is in contrast to Charlie’s sense of despair about living in the squalor of New York City. Shirley invites Charlie to find pleasure in the city by picnicking with him under the boardwalk of Coney Island and by encouraging him to leave his apartment and his wine-soaked existence. She also encourages him to return to Greenwich Village, where he had once found fellow artistic spirits and other intellectuals, but Charlie refuses.

Troy Lamb

Troy Lamb, a man of Scottish and German descent, one of Charlie’s oldest friends in Manhattan. A promising intellectual, Troy has studied philosophy and anthropology at prestigious universities. A fellowship has allowed him to take his wife, Susan Mantle, to study...

(The entire section is 593 words.)