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.)

Minty Alley 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.)

Minty Alley The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Haynes is an insulated bachelor born of the black middle class, a man with the skin of one culture and the mind of another, a man born to be a civil servant in a Third World country. At the end of the book, the reader sees that the rigidity of his personality, shaped by his bourgeois upbringing, has been softened, the sheltered civil servant now beginning to experience life more fully, having lived through the actions of others not of his class or of his “sensibilities.” Without actually changing, he becomes more interesting, though not quite as interesting as the other characters. He is in the unique position of being a watcher: He rarely judges, even when asked, and he intervenes even less frequently. He is in the position—temperamentally, socially, and economically—of achieving a broader, less biased overview, (though he does not remain unmoved or untouched by the dramas of those around him). As James portrays him, he is neither heroic nor bloodless. He may perhaps be called a “fair” man, though he does participate in his own kind of sexual opportunism with the young Maisie. In the final analysis, he is as trapped by circumstance as anyone else.

Mrs. Rouse is an interesting character: pretty, plump, sensual-looking, highly religious, yet candid about sex. (She says to Haynes when showing him her room for rent: “’Any—er friend of yours you want to come and see you at any time, you will be able to have them.’ Haynes felt the blood in his face, but that decided him.”) Typical of colonized people, the amount of white blood she possesses is of utmost importance: “Her face was a smooth light-brown with a fine aquiline nose and well-shaped lips. The strain of white ancestry responsible for the nose was not recent, for her hair was coarse and essentially negroid.” Hardworking, industrious, she struggles to keep her house and cake business as well as Benoit. He is the jewel in her crown, but when he openly cheats on her, she not only throws him out but also attempts to stab him. After he leaves, her life and the life in the yard is never the same. She broods and mourns; the final straw is when Benoit marries the nurse and humiliates her further. In the end, she “triumphs”: the marriage, as she predicted, fails; Benoit dies; the nurse is put in jail for stealing. Mrs. Rouse is the one who pays his hospital bills,...

(The entire section is 960 words.)