The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Mason Ellis is the focal point of the novel. The reader never really knows if Mason is hallucinating or is dreaming what has happened. The first part of the novel sketches Mason’s youth and young manhood in a realistic mode, but as the novel progresses the text becomes more fantasy than reality. The possibility of Mason’s schizophrenia is brought up early in the novel in relation to his fantasy episodes with Celt CuRoi. A strict reading of Mason’s character as insane is too easy an interpretation of this complicated text. Certainly, the issue of Mason’s criminality and his great hoax of masquerading as a well-known black Author is cloaked in ambiguity. The reader comes to believe that Mason is in fact a black author struggling with defining his identity and somehow feeling as if he is an impostor.

Mason’s background as an African American contains many authentic touches and suggests a continuity of community that Mason seems incapable of accepting. References are made to black authors and aspects of the black vernacular and folk tradition. Black musicians such as Charlie Parker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and the Platters pop up continuously in the text. Furthermore, the split in Mason’s consciousness represented by his connection to the Irish-sounding Celt CuRoi and his search for authentic African American identity and African heritage may in part be responsible for the conflicts in the novel. Mason’s criminality figures heavily in the first half of the novel, yet in the second part, he is able to talk to academic audiences all over the world, and his expertise is never brought into question. The two parts of his personality do not seem to connect in any meaningful way except on the hinge of his assumption of the black Author’s identity. In the end, perhaps readers are meant...

(The entire section is 737 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mason Ellis

Mason Ellis, an African American male born on December 31, 1936, in Georgia. He has a birthmark on his right forearm in the shape of a mudfrog. Brought up in Chicago, Illinois, he is a school dropout who joined the Air Force, serving in Wyoming and Florida. As a father of six children, he deserts his wife and goes to New York. He had served time in Attica from 1977 to 1978 for possession of drugs. Mason is a writer and takes on the identity of the Author, a noted black writer. Under his assumed identity, Mason receives a grant from the Magnan-Rockford Foundation to deliver lectures at colleges and universities throughout the world. Mason’s journey is a series of episodic adventures in which dream and reality mix. He passes from country to country embroiled in bombings, kidnapping, and revolutionary wars. Sometimes he reads from his novel in progress, which is about his past life. As Mason sinks into paranoia, he searches for meaning and identity in a variety of places, ending up in a remote African village.

Chiro Ellis

Chiro Ellis, Mason’s father, a dark figure who leaves Mason a complicated legacy. He is the bad man of African American myth, a rebellious wanderer, great dancer, gambler, and lover.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle, a Native American woman who lived on a reservation in New Mexico and worked as an actress and a dancer before meeting Mason in Georgia and...

(The entire section is 540 words.)