The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Like most of the other characters in the novel, Haynes is presented as a type. He is a reflection of the educated black middle class, alienated from the masses but seeking to bridge the gap through involvement in their lives.

This involvement has the effect of transforming Haynes and allowing him to develop. He arrives at 2 Minty Alley shy, naïve, and a little timid. By the time he leaves, his experiences, particularly with Maisie, have turned him into an assertive and world-wise gentleman. Even though Haynes returns to his middle-class existence, readers are left with the impression that life will never be quite the same for him. He has tasted the joys of friendship, and his sexuality has been awakened.

Haynes’s credibility as a character is open to question. In the Trinidadian society of the 1930’s it is a bit far-fetched to imagine him as a member of the middle class electing to live among and become involved in the lives of the people of a barrack yard. All the same, the author, himself a member of the black middle class at the time, claimed to have lived in a household similar to the one described in the novel.

However plausible Haynes’s character may be, it is clear that he is used primarily as a device for looking at the lives of the “ordinary” people of the yard. It is from Haynes’s limited perspective that the other characters and their activities are presented. Characters are seen only through his eyes; they...

(The entire section is 501 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Haynes, a bookstore clerk. A sheltered, solitary, middle-class, black bachelor of twenty, he has recently lost his beloved, widowed mother, a headmistress who had controlled and planned his life. Left with only his small income, timid, naïve, and dependent on his servant Ella, he enters a period of initiation when he takes a room in a lower-class compound in Minty Alley. Initially an interested observer and always a privileged and respected outsider, he is gradually drawn into the conflicts, intrigues, and passions of the yard inhabitants. He is sought for his advice and is expected to be an arbiter of disputes. His relationship with Maisie aids in his transformation.


Ella, Haynes’s servant. Good-natured, selfless, and dedicated to Haynes’s welfare, she is dubious about his living among the socially inferior people of Minty Alley. Perspicacious and wise in the ways of the yard, she keeps Haynes informed and protected, jealously preparing his food and cleaning for him until ill health forces her to leave.

Mrs. Alice Rouse

Mrs. Alice Rouse, Haynes’s landlord, a baker. A short, stout, handsome, brown-skinned woman of about forty-five, she is struggling to make a living and maintain her dignity while providing employment and support for her rebellious niece Maisie and for her paramour of seventeen years, Benoit. She is strong-willed, religious, hardworking, and independent, having left an unfaithful husband many years earlier. Betrayed by Benoit and her friend, Nurse Jackson; taunted by Maisie; and beset by financial problems, she becomes increasingly emotional, calling on the power of both conventional and folk religion (obeah) to regain her man and punish her tormentors. When Benoit is ill and abandoned by his wife, Mrs....

(The entire section is 743 words.)