The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters of Moses are generally flat and underdeveloped, in part because Hurston is adapting a biblical tale and is limited by her source, but also because she is writing an allegory of the American black slaves’ struggle for emancipation.

Hurston has combined the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses depicted in African folklore. Thus, the Moses described in the novel is a wise prophet but also is a great voodoo chief. His power is derived not only from God but also from the Egyptian priests and the Book of Thoth. Both of these aspects—wisdom and magic—are necessary to lead and control the Hebrews, who, because of their enslavement, are not prepared for leadership roles. In order to emphasize the African heritage of Moses, Hurston departs from the biblical source and portrays Moses as Egyptian born. In this manner, she suggests that a forceful outside leader is necessary to free an oppressed people.

The novel chronicles Moses’ growth as he develops into the leader of the Hebrews. His early years are a preparation for the task that Jethro has set before him. From Mentu, the Egyptian priests, and the Book of Thoth, he acquires the magic later needed to control the Hebrews. From his years of military campaigns, he acquires the military expertise that he will later impart to Joshua. His sense of fairness results in his siding with the oppressed Hebrews, at one point killing an Egyptian overseer who brutally beats a...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Moses, an Egyptian prince who leads the enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt. A great soldier and the most powerful magician in the land, he also possesses great wisdom and an understanding of psychology. He is a born leader, but he has no ambition for power or glory. For a period of more than fifty years, Moses gives up what could be a happy and comfortable existence with his wife and family and repeatedly refuses to reign as a crowned and jeweled king, so that he can serve God and teach the Hebrews to rule themselves under God’s laws.

Pharaoh Ta-Phar

Pharaoh Ta-Phar, Moses’ uncle, the leader of Egypt and an oppressor of the Hebrews. It was Pharaoh Ta-Phar’s father who enslaved the Hebrews, but the new pharaoh is crueler to them than was his father. He has hated and feared Moses since both were young and Moses began to outshine Ta-Phar with his superior fighting ability. His idea of a proper siege is a large body of well-trained fighting men riding into battle, with Ta-Phar in a glorious chariot riding in front. He is proud and stubborn, accepting the lavish robes and titles of power without accepting the responsibility.


Jethro, also named Ruel, Moses’ mentor and father-in-law, a prince and a priest of Midian. Jethro is already graying at the beginning of his seventy-five-year friendship with Moses, and he has more knowledge of magic and nature than any of the priests in Egypt. Wise, strong, and simple, he teaches Moses everything he can. When he believes that Moses is ready, he reveals to Moses the dream he has had for forty years: a great leader taking the...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The characters in Moses, Man of the Mountain are portrayed through their speech and actions rather than through more indirect methods such as use of symbols. The well-rounded character of Moses dominates the novel. He displays various character traits that are for the most part admirable. He is curious, intelligent, patient, forceful, and clever. He is not portrayed, however, as a perfect man. He demonstrates anger, disappointment, exasperation, and the instinct of a gambler. It is interesting to observe that as he loses his identification with the royal family of Egypt, his speech patterns change. He begins to use the dialect of the slaves, and as the novel progresses, he seems to have completely assimilated the Israelites’ speech patterns. Moses, a man of vision, hopes to turn the Israelites into a freedom-loving people. He wants nothing for himself. When they offer him a crown, he rejects it and is disappointed that it was offered. Moses believes that a truly freedom-loving people would not be eager for a king to rule them.

Miriam and her brother Aaron appear to have few redeeming qualities. Miriam, who has been renowned as a prophetess among the Hebrews before the exodus, chafes under the direction of Moses. She thinks that she is an important person and that she does not receive the power and recognition that are her due. Only after Moses smites her with leprosy does she stop her constant complaining and agitating.

Aaron, less...

(The entire section is 523 words.)