Our Nig Characters
Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson was originally published in 1859. It is a work of autobiography, although with some names and other details fictionalized. The characters are based on real people rather than purely fictional.
Frado is the protagonist of the work and represents Wilson herself. She is a young mixed-race woman with a white mother and black father who is abandoned by her parents at a young age (six) and placed as an indentured servant with the Bellmont family in Singleton, New Hampshire. Although she is not a slave, as an indentured servant neither is she really free. As a child, she a intelligent, curious, cheerful, loves learning, and questions authority, despite her physical frailty and oppressive circumstances. She also has a strong interest in spiritual matters.
Mag Smith: Frado's mother is a poor white woman who has two children by Jim, a black man. When Jim dies, she marries Seth and abandons Frado with the Bellmonts, an upper middle class family with social aspirations.
Mrs. Bellmont: She is the matriarch of the family and the villain of the book. She is a social climber very concerned with appearances who abuses Frado both mentally and physically. She is an unhappy and angry woman who vents her suffering on Frado.
Mr. Bellmont: The patriarch of the Bellmont family, he sympathizes with Frado and is kind to her but does not defend her from his wife. He is portrayed as ineffectual and in some ways complicit even though not himself abusive.
James Bellmont: One of the Bellmont children, he is kind to Frado and intervenes to defend her from his mother's cruelty. He eventually leaves home to get married, leaving Frado unprotected, and then returns home, terminally ill, to die. He is characterized as a good person and faithful Christian. Jack, his brother, also is kind to Frado at times but is not as closely involved in her life.
Mary: Another of the Bellmont children, Mary is cruel and domineering like her mother.
Mrs. Moore: She is a kind Christian woman who teaches Frado to make hats, enabling Frado to succeed in earning money.
Samuel: Samuel is a charismatic black man who marries Frado, gets her pregnant, abandons her, returns, and eventually dies leaving her with a child to support. He is somewhat of a charlatan.
Frado’s basic impulses to laugh and to enjoy life’s simple pleasures are not easily repressed by the cruel servitude she enters when her white mother, Mag, runs off and leaves her with the Bellmonts, a white family dominated by a cruel and bigoted matriarch.
Although life with the Bellmonts is exceedingly grim for Frado, the bright light of her humanity never completely dies. Indeed, Wilson writes, during the first three years of Frado’s indenture, when she attends school, her constant “jollity” cannot “be quenched by whipping or scolding.” Even after her formal education ends and life becomes creased by constant insults, the “spark of playfulness” manifests itself in the occasional “funny thing” she says to her sympathizers, in her performance of daring stunts, and in her amusements with animals.
Mrs. Bellmont, a fierce social climber, takes out her frustrations on Frado. Consequently, no matter what occurs to “ruffle” Mrs. Bellmont, “a few blows on Nig seemed to relieve her of a portion of ill-will.”
Mrs. Bellmont is enthusiastically assisted in her efforts to break Frado’s spirit by her equally willful and malcontent daughter, Mary, who advances in the practice of cruelty as she matures.
Constantly besieged by the two cruel Bellmont “ladies,” Frado receives crumbs of kindness from three key family members: Mr. Bellmont, the father of the family, and Jack and James, his two sons. (Jane, a crippled daughter, and “Nabs,” the elderly maiden aunt, live in the house and are kind to Frado, but they are too cowed by their states of dependency to speak out.)
Although Mr. Bellmont is consistently sympathetic toward Frado, his sympathy never...
(The entire section is 1,279 words.)