The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The character of Link Williams is presented through his relationships with other characters in the novel. Link has suffered many scares that are detrimental to his psychological development. At the age of eight, Link is rejected by Abbie—his adoptive mother and the center of his boyhood—who, in her grief and guilt over the recent death of her husband, has completely forgotten Link’s existence. In elementary school, Link is embarrassed by his teacher, who assigns him the role of Sambo in a class presentation. When Link is sixteen, Bill Hod—who has been a surrogate father to Link—betrays his trust and love by almost killing Link the first time Link disobeys him. When he is twenty-six, Link is betrayed by Camilla when he decides to end their relationship. Ambivalence marks all three relationships: Link’s feelings toward Abbie, Bill, and Camilla mix love and hate, happiness and suffering, gratification and disappointment. Abbie evokes the sympathy as well as the intolerance of the reader. Her disdain for black people, her embrace of white ideologies, and her adoption of aristocratic values greatly endanger Link’s psychological well-being, indirectly cause the Major’s death, and prevent her from enjoying life and loving Link. The author uses Abbie as an example to show that the internalization of the oppressor’s values will bring only confusion and self-destruction. Still, Abbie proves that she is able to change. At the end of the novel, she transcends...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Abigail Crunch

Abigail Crunch, a seventy-year-old widow living in New England. Abbie resides at Number Six Dumble Street in The Narrows, a predominantly black section of Monmouth. Prim, proper, and straitlaced, Abbie is the embodiment of New England Puritanism. She denies her African American heritage by rejecting every aspect of her own culture as she sees it exemplified in the daily lives of the inhabitants of The Narrows. This rejection sometimes extends even to her husband, the Major, and her nephew, Link. Abbie believes that cleanliness and propriety are next to godliness, and she keeps her person and her home immaculate, despite her altered circumstances following the death of her husband. Appearances are everything; this is the guiding principle of Abbie’s life.

Lincoln (Link) Williams

Lincoln (Link) Williams, the nephew of Abbie Crunch. Orphaned as a child and adopted by Abbie and her husband, Link is molded both by the deeply moralistic standards of Abbie and by the street philosophy of Bill Hod, the owner of the Last Chance Saloon. Bill Hod’s pragmatic, self-affirming philosophy counterbalances the strictly Puritanical, often self-denying teachings of Abbie. These people and the nurturing environment of The Narrows help Link to develop the strength of character that he demonstrates when he faces death at the hands of Camilo Sheffield’s husband.

Camilo Treadway Sheffield

Camilo Treadway Sheffield, a rich white heiress. Bored with her life at Treadway Hall—the family mansion on the outskirts of Monmouth—Camilo ventures into The Narrows on a dark and foggy night and is rescued from a would-be attacker by Link Williams. Later, when she discovers that Link is a black man, neither his race nor his occupation as part-time bartender at the Last Chance Saloon deters her from becoming involved with him. Camilo rents an apartment in Harlem for their weekend rendezvous, buys Link expensive gifts, and on one occasion suffers the humiliation of being literally thrown out into the streets naked for sleeping with Link in Abbie Crunch’s house. When Link ends the affair with her, Camilo falls into a state of deep depression, isolating herself behind the walls of the Treadway mansion.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Ann Petry creates her characters with the skill and deftness of the consummate artist. She draws her characters in such a manner as to reflect the diversity of African American society and the interrelationship between that society and American society in general. In carefully weaving together the lives of her characters, she emphasizes both the complexity and the interconnectedness of all human life. While the two dominant voices in the novel are those of Abigail Crunch and her adopted son, Link Williams (the two characters whose psychic depths are plumbed most thoroughly), there is always, in the background, a chorus of minor voices, deepening and enriching the narrative. Except for Malcolm Powther, however, these voices are subdued, and the characters may be viewed in terms of their relationships to Abbie or to Link.

In Abigail Crunch, Petry creates a character unique in African American fiction of the period—black, middle-class, strong—enduring many hardships but refusing to be defeated by them. A primary source of her strength lies in her ability to discount all but her own concept of reality. Forged in the cauldron of prejudice and racism, Abbie emerges as a typical New England matron, steeped in tradition and propriety, embracing her Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage with a passion and eschewing every aspect of her African American heritage. She refuses to associate with the inhabitants of The Narrows, which is now predominantly black; and she views every aspect of it—its people, its haunts, its environs—as degraded and shameful. Despite the denial of her African American heritage, Abbie reveals certain aspects of that heritage in subtle ways—sometimes in mannerisms and sometimes in her reaction to other characters in the novel, as she measures them against her concept of the ideal.

Mamie Powther, for example, is held in low esteem by Abbie, who considers her loud,...

(The entire section is 780 words.)