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.)