The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

From the point of view of character, the shipboard world of Natives of My Person is divided into two halves, the world of masters and the world of men. In the latter world, the characters have actual names such as Baptiste, Ivan, and Marcel. Considered collectively, the crew members’ names resist the identification of Lime Stone with any specific imperial power. Many of the names have French associations. Of all the various empires to have made their marks on the Caribbean, the French was, arguably, the least prominent, so that the French emphasis becomes part of the structure of inversion upon which the novel is based.

The men, by virtue of their names, attain a certain individuality, but it is an attainment that they are not permitted to experience as empowerment. Such a condition of psychological disfranchisement is endemic to life at sea. The result is that, for all their colorfulness, the various skills of their trades, and the range of their differentiated backgrounds, the ordinary seamen are utterly dependent on the ebb and flow of surmise, rumor, and gossip that they trawl for indications of what lies in store for them. They are held captive both by the enigmatic Commandant and, more fundamentally, by a social structure that demands that they be kept in a state of lesser awareness than the officers. The effect of this dependence is that their individuality is purely nominal.

The manner in which the men are entrapped is largely social. In important respects, they are free of the sexual attachments that determine the fates of their superiors in rank, but this freedom is unable to assume a constructive form. There is no alternative available to the...

(The entire section is 689 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Commandant

The Commandant, a wealthy soldier of Lime Stone who leads the illegal voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, given to him by his mistress, to colonize San Cristobal (Isles of the Black Rock). He is strongly connected to the ruling classes of Lime Stone but undertakes his voyage without the sanction of the rulers. Hearing the Boatswain’s lurid story of the Lady of the House of Trade and Justice, he halts the voyage and is murdered by mutinous officers.

The Lady of the House of Trade and Justice

The Lady of the House of Trade and Justice, the daughter of Master Cecil, mistress of the Commandant, and wife of Gabriel Tate de Lysle. She makes use of the Boatswain, who tries to murder her. She is among the women on the second ship, traveling to San Cristobal.


Pinteados, the tall, Antarctican pilot of the Reconnaissance, somewhere over the age of thirty-five, who tells the Surgeon of his relations with the Surgeon’s wife while she is in an asylum. He survives the mutiny and desertion to tell his story to Admiral Badaloza, to whom he hints that possession of the ship might be negotiated. He is the Commandant’s superior not only in the tactics of survival but also in ultimate material success.


Sasha, a ten-year-old boy who is forced to serve on the Reconnaissance. Less than four feet tall, with a boil in the corner of his mouth, he witnesses the murder of the Commandant, whom he worships, and kills the Surgeon and the Steward.

Gabriel Tate de Lysle

Gabriel Tate de Lysle, the lord treasurer to the House of Trade and Justice. He used an orphan girl to trap the Steward with incest as a means of protecting himself after he stole rare maps from the Steward.

The Steward

The Steward, a neat, red-bearded officer on the Reconnaissance with great knowledge of maps and charts. He fingers a wedding ring hanging from a neck chain. He joined the voyage to free himself from his wife and her connections. When he learns that his wife is waiting at San Cristobal, he and the Surgeon lead the officers’ mutiny. He and the Surgeon kill the Commandant; he is killed by Sasha.

The Surgeon


(The entire section is 950 words.)