The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Sam Lucas is one of the memorable characters of the black novels of this period. Sam is more amoral than immoral. He lives his life as he thinks he must. He has always been a drifter, perpetrating his confidence schemes upon the innocent and then leaving for more fertile fields. He is dashing and romantic, and his having only one arm makes him a sympathetic figure to many of the people of whom he is trying to take advantage. Cullen’s description of his going down the aisle of the church to be converted with the left sleeve of his coat hanging empty beside him indicates how Sam can turn any adversity into something of personal benefit.

Mattie Johnson is in many ways Sam’s opposite. Mattie knows what she believes and is resolute in her beliefs. She is human enough, however, to be swayed emotionally by the kind of display that Sam puts on during his conversion in the Mt. Hebron Episcopal Church. One must remember that Sam swayed eight other unredeemed souls besides Mattie, so his was a virtuoso performance.

Mattie is simple but not stupid. Although she falls in love with Sam at first sight, she is resolute in her love for him. She not only stays with him until the end, but she also touches him in such a way that because of her he does the most noble thing of his life in order to bring her a modicum of comfort before he dies.

Despite Sam’s dalliance with Emma and despite Mattie’s deep sorrow at the loss of their child, Mattie...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sam Lucas

Sam Lucas, a handsome, one-armed confidence man. Sam’s usual con is to repent his gambling ways at revival meetings, then support himself for a while on the church community’s generosity toward him as a reformed sinner. When he arrives in Harlem, Mattie Johnson, an attractive young black woman, is swept away in her enthusiasm at his example, and she joins the church and falls in love with him. They marry, and Sam moves in with her and her Aunt Mandy, but the marriage begins to dissolve as Sam stops going to church and Mattie devotes increasing energy to it. Eventually, Sam moves in with Emma May, an usher at the theater where Sam takes tickets, but he moves back with Mattie when he becomes sick. On his deathbed, Sam lies, telling Mattie that he hears music and sees a bright light, so that she will believe that his soul has been saved.

Mattie Johnson

Mattie Johnson, Constancia Brandon’s maid, a good-hearted and pretty woman. After falling in love with Sam at a New Year’s Eve church meeting, Mattie never considers the possibility that his conversion was an act. They are married at her employer’s house. After the marriage begins to fail, she tricks Sam into going to church with her again, where she prays aloud for Christ to take her husband back into His fold. Sam stalks out and leaves her for his mistress, Emma May, but the forgiving Mattie takes him back when Emma comes to tell her that he is sick. When Sam tells Mattie that he hears music and sees a light, she believes that his soul has been saved.

Constancia Brandon

Constancia Brandon, Mattie’s employer, a center of Harlem society, always lively and at times outrageous....

(The entire section is 704 words.)