Clare Savage, the protagonist, a woman in her twenties. Clare is the confused daughter of a father who is desperate to find a secure place in the male-dominated power structure and a mother who desires most of all to live with some sense of dignity and self-worth. Her parents’ insecurity is reflected in Clare, who lives at various times in Jamaica, the United States, and England, always hoping to discover who she is and her place—as a black woman from a Third World country—in a world that too often refuses to recognize her kind.
Boy Savage, Clare’s father. Boy leaves Jamaica with his reluctant family hoping to find a better life in the United States. He represents a certain type of black man, desperate to fit into white society. He ignores its evils, principally, what it does to his self-respect. He becomes disillusioned and feels impotent.
Kitty Savage, Clare’s mother. She reluctantly follows her husband to New York and tries to fit in, but she cannot easily fool herself into rationalizing or overlooking the bigotry that surrounds her. Her unhappiness leads to small but significant acts of rebellion that culminate in her leaving her husband to return to her homeland.
Harry/Harriet, Clare’s bisexual friend. His/her sexual confusion is a manifestation of the identity crisis that afflicts members of minority groups in general and those from Third World countries more specifically. Clare’s best friend began life as Harry, a male, but is Harry/Harriet by the time the two meet. Rather than being a pitiful or grotesque figure, however, he/she ultimately is an affirmative character, by the end making a forceful choice of identity. She commits to life as Harriet, a confident, committed woman.
Christopher, a yard boy for a wealthy black family. Christopher represents the most frightening aspect of Third World culture: the person driven to murderous rage. Christopher, ultimately to be pitied more than feared, is reared in the almost incomprehensible poverty of the “dungle,” the shantytown of Kingston, Jamaica. His wretched life becomes even worse after the death of his mother. Always seeking comfort and solace, but never finding it, Christopher—his name designates him as a Christ figure—reacts not with meekness but finally with horrible violence as he slaughters the wealthy black family for whom he works.
Paul H., the son of a wealthy black Kingston family. Paul finds his family the morning after they, along with the maid Mavis, are slaughtered by Christopher. Paul represents a certain type of black youth, reared in relative affluence, essentially good-natured, but ultimately blind to the horrid conditions in which most black people are forced to live. He pays for his ignorance with his life.
Bobby, Clare’s black American lover in Europe. Bobby is a Vietnam veteran, who suffers from physical and emotional wounds that will not heal and allow him to commit to another person.