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Character descriptions in Nightjohn

Summary:

In Nightjohn, Sarny is a young enslaved girl who learns to read and write despite the severe risks. Nightjohn, a former enslaved man who escaped to freedom, returns to teach other enslaved people literacy, embodying courage and sacrifice. Other characters include Mammy, who raises Sarny and is protective of her, and Waller, the cruel plantation owner.

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Who are the characters in Nightjohn and what are their characteristics?

Sarny: Sarny is the main character and the narrator, so the story is seen through her eyes. She is rebellious, but she hides this behind her quiet attitude. She believes that reading and writing is the way to fight against slavery. Her relationship with Nightjohn revolves around her learning which is considered a crime for the slaves.

Alice: Alice perhaps serves to foreshadow the fate of Sarny if she keeps insisting on pursuing learning. Alice is finally killed by the slave master's hunting dogs when she attempts to run away.

Nightjohn: Nightjohn is a heroic character who teaches Sarny how to read and write. He takes the punishment for this act and is lashed. He represents learning and freedom even though he suffers for his beliefs.

Mammy: Mammy has raised Sarny as her own. She gets upset when she discovers Nightjohn is risking everything to teach Sarny how to read and write. However, she takes the blame when Waller discovers Sarny can read. She is punished until Nightjohn steps in to take the blame himself and the full punishment.

Waller: Waller is the master on the plantation and brutally punishes the slaves.

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Who are the characters in Nightjohn and what are their characteristics?

Sarny is the main character in Nightjohn.  She is twelve, and people think she is "dumb", because she has "a stuck tongue", and when she was born she "come out wrong...all backwards and twixt-and-twinst".  In reality, however, Sarny is very intelligent, and learns how to read very quickly. 

Nightjohn is a slave who is brought to the Waller plantation.  He is unique in that he once escaped to the North, but came back to teach slaves to read.  Nightjohn is courageous, and self-sacrificing.  He endures brutal punishment in order to give slaves what he considers to be their ticket to eventual emancipation - literacy, so that they might become aware of their situation and be inspired to fight for their freedom.

Mammy, or old Delie, takes care of the children on the plantation.  She is a loving figure to the young ones who are taken from their real mothers as soon as they are born.  Delie is strong, practical, and wise, maintaining an untouchable dignity even in the face of brutal and inhumane treatment at the hands of Waller.

Clel Waller is the "master" on the plantation.  He is a cruel, sadistic man who treats his slaves like animals, breeding them like livestock, working them to the point of exhaustion, and feeding them from a trough, adults and children alike.  Sarny correctly observes that he has power only because "he's got dogs and a whip and a gun and so can cause hurt".

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How would you describe the main character in Nightjohn?

Sarny is the main character in Nightjohn. In the story, Sarny is a spunky, perceptive, and resourceful young girl.

Sarny's courage and resourcefulness is clear from the beginning of the story. She spends time listening to the conversations of Margaret and Alaine as she works in the flower beds. Margaret is Clel Waller's wife, and Alaine is Margaret's sister.

When both women express their disgust at Clel purchasing yet another slave, Sarny's ears perk up. Her unobtrusive spying nets her some interesting information. She learns that slaves are expensive and that a slave can cost over a thousand dollars.

By listening, Sarny learns about the world around her. Her determination to thrive is evident, and her efforts are soon rewarded.

The text tells us that Sarny eventually makes Nightjohn's acquaintance, and it is from him that Sarny learns how to read. For her part, Sarny understands the dangers of being literate. However, she persists, and by the end of the story, Sarny helps Nightjohn teach slaves from surrounding plantations how to read.

In all, Sarny's determination, resourcefulness, and astuteness is clear from Paulsen's text. Like Nightjohn, Sarny is determined to learn how to read and write so that slaves like her can tell the world about the cruelties they have endured.

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How would you describe the main character in Nightjohn?

Sarny is the protagonist in Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen. She is a twelve-year-old slave who has higher aspirations for herself. Her mother is sold, leaving her motherless. There is a misconception that she is not a bright child because her speech is impacted by a birth defect which is referred to in the book as "a stuck tongue.” Some even believe she is a witch. In reality, she is a very introspective, smart child. Nightjohn, a former slave, returns to the South, and when he gives her the opportunity, she easily learns to read and write, proving her intelligence. 

As a slave, Sarny’s literacy sets her up for problems, but she is determined, showing perseverance in the face of adversity. Despite the dangers, she helps Nightjohn as he educates other slaves because she is adamant that literacy is the key to a better life for those who were enslaved.

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