List of Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Howard Belsey—husband of Kiki, an art historian at Wellington College, a white man originally from England.

Kiki Simmonds Belsey—wife of Howard, a hospital administrator, a black woman, descendant of American slaves.

Jerome Belsey—oldest son of Howard and Kiki, student at Brown University.

Zora Belsey—daughter of Howard and Kiki, student at Wellington.

Levi Belsey—fifteen-year-old youngest son of Howard and Kiki.

Claudia Simmons—Kiki’s mother, who bequeathed the Wellington home to Kiki.

Harold Belsey—Howard’s father, who lives in England

Montague “Monty” Kipps—black conservative professor and Howard’s nemesis.

Carlene Kipps—wife of Monty.

Victoria Kipps—sexually promiscuous, eighteen-year-old daughter of Monty and Carlene.

Michael Kipps—son of Monty and Carlene, a conservative businessman

Amelia—woman Michael marries.

Carl Thomas—black poet who is invited to sit in Claire’s poetry classes.

Chantelle—black student poet with whom Monty Kipps has sex.

Dr. Erskine Jegede—Howard’s best friend, a fellow academic.

Caroline Jegede—Erskine’s wife.

Claire Malcolm—writer and English professor who has a three-week affair with Howard.

Warren Crane—marries Claire Malcolm, a biochemist.

Jack French—Dean of Humanities department faculty, who hires Monty Kipps for a position in the Black Studies department.

Christian von Klepper—one of Howard’s visiting lecturers.

Smith J. Miller—Howard’s teaching assistant.

Character Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Physically, Howard Belsey is very white and slender. Emotionally,Howard’s strengths are his enthusiasm and dedication to his chosen field as an art historian. He is fairly attentive to his children and he loves his wife. However, he is weak when it comes to other women. Despite his family's encouragement, lack of focus is a problem for Professor Belsey. He finds it difficult to concentrate on the study of Rembrandt he should have finished long ago. Part of the reason he is reluctant to complete this work is that his professional nemesis, Monty Kipps, has completed his own book on Rembrandt to critical acclaim. Howard’s jealousy of Kipps is obvious and may be the reason he beds Monty's daughter, Victoria.

Kiki Belsey might be stronger than her husband. She is forgiving, compassionate, and knows when to say she has had enough. Kiki comes from southern black roots. Her great-grandmother was a slave. She is a big woman, or has become one after thirty years of marriage. She is conscious of her weight but not to the point that she truly worries about it. Kiki has a good job and is apparently well thought of in her capacity as hospital administrator.  However, she wonders what she might have become if she had not devoted so much time to her husband and children. Both she and Howard share a crazy sense of humor that bonds in their relationship.

Jerome Belsey, the eldest son, is very self-conscious not only about himself but about his family. He enjoys his stay with the Kipps family because they appear so much more organized, more religious, and more tightly (and conservatively) bound. Later in the story, his assumptions about the Kippses prove to be not completely true. But Jerome’s assessments of his family demonstrates what he feels about his family. He doesn’t feel he fits in.

Intellectually, Zora Belsey is ahead of her class and very mature and confident. But Zora does not like herself. She is very sensitive about her weight and her lack of social skills tend to make her annoying. She bullies her way into a creative writing class for which she is not qualified. Like Jerome, she becomes infatuated and embarrasses herself. Unlike Jerome, Zora looks down on almost everyone.

Levi Belsey has led a protected life and is a bit naïve. Still, Levi has a good heart and is the most capable of the siblings in social situations. However, in contrast to Zora, Levi wants to help other people because he has empathy for them. He is not looking for a personal reward.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access



Critical Essays