The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Frado, a pretty mulatto girl who, at the age of six, becomes the servant of the Bellmonts, a middle-class white family. For the next twelve years, Frado’s life is brutal and unremittingly harsh. When she turns eighteen, the age of independence, Frado, frail and sickly from years of drudgery, leaves the Bellmonts. Starved for affection, she marries Samuel, the first black man who is kind to her. After Frado becomes pregnant, Samuel deserts her, leaving both mother and child dependent on charity. After Samuel dies of a fever, Frado, without hope of rescue, writes her story to earn money.

Mrs. Bellmont

Mrs. Bellmont, the book’s principal antagonist, who, with her evil daughter, Mary, makes Frado’s life miserable. Mrs. Bellmont’s great cruelty is matched by her great suffering in the end. Her pain begins with the death of her son, James, followed by the death of her beloved Mary. Her own death, several years later, is accompanied by unspeakable pain.

James Bellmont

James Bellmont, the son of the Bellmont family. Frado and James build a strong friendship that survives his frequent absences. Between James’s visits, Frado’s remembrances of his kindness cheer her heart. When Frado hears that James is getting married, she is overjoyed. She hopes that he and his new wife will take her. After his wedding, however, James fails to return home for several years. When he finally comes back, he is quite ill. During his final visit, James becomes increasingly disabled and finally dies after a year of suffering. As he approaches death, James tries to convert Frado to Christianity, but she cannot accept the god of her persecutors as her savior.