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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1336

Bert
See Robert Lewis

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Mr. Fred Higgins
Fred Higgins, a local politician, is a friend of Colonel Norwood’s and a man who believes in the racial superiority of whites. Higgins comes to warn Norwood that Robert has been causing trouble in town, and warns Norwood that Robert’s actions might lead to his death. Higgins also criticizes Norwood’s relationship with Cora, saying that it is okay to have sex with her, but that living with her like he has been is a scandal. Unlike Norwood, Higgins rules over his African American workers with an iron fist.

Cora Lewis
Cora Lewis is the black housekeeper and mistress of Colonel Tom Norwood, with whom she has four living mulatto children. Cora first met Norwood when she was fifteen years old, when he first had sex with her. When Norwood’s wife died, Cora, who was already pregnant with William, moved into the Big House on Norwood’s plantation, and has been living with him like a wife for thirty years. Cora yields to her new life without a fight and as a result, Norwood is sometimes nicer to her and their mulatto children than he is to other African Americans on his plantation. Because of this, Cora tries even harder to keep the peace in the house, buries her own feelings and does whatever is necessary to earn the best life for her children. While she is able to get most of her children to act the same way, Robert does not.

At first, Cora criticizes Robert for his behavior and is worried that Robert’s actions might hurt all of her family in the end. Throughout the play, Cora tries in vain to smooth over the conflict between Robert and Norwood, first by appealing to Norwood to go easy on Robert, then by appealing to Robert to act respectful to Norwood. However, in the end she is unable to stop Robert from killing Norwood. This act, and perhaps the strain of bottling up her own emotions for so long, drives Cora insane. She speaks to Norwood’s corpse as if he is still alive and refuses to believe that he is in the undertaker’s wagon, even when others try in vain to tell her that he is. Even after Norwood’s body has been taken away, Cora believes that he is one of the mob who is chasing after the fleeing Robert. Through her conversations with Norwood’s corpse and then with the thin air, the audience realizes that Cora has never been happy with the fact that Norwood did not admit his paternity, and the fact that he beat their children. She curses the dead man, and wonders why God has forsaken her, since she has always tried to live right. Ultimately, she watches as Robert runs upstairs to kill himself, and tells herself and the mob that arrives that her boy has gone to sleep.

Robert Lewis
Robert Lewis is the youngest mulatto son of Cora Lewis and Colonel Thomas Norwood; his actions cause the conflict in the play and lead to the murder of Norwood and Robert’s own suicide. Since he was a boy, Robert, who Cora calls ‘‘Bert,’’ has shared both the physical characteristics and the headstrong ways of his father, Norwood. As a child, Robert is Norwood’s favorite mulatto child, until Robert calls him his father in front of an important group of white people. Norwood beats the young Robert, a beating that he never forgets. Norwood also sends Robert away to school for six years, so he does not have to be around him. However, this backfires on Norwood. Since Robert has been heavily educated outside of the plantation, when he returns he finds it impossible to be subservient like the other African Americans who work for Norwood.

This sense of personal confidence and selfesteem, which is lacking in many other African Americans, gets Robert into trouble. When a C.O.D. order arrives broken at the town post office, he argues with the white woman at the counter, trying to get his money back. This incident, which is viewed as outrageous by the...

(The entire section contains 1336 words.)

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