The Outsider Characters
Cross is a married black postal worker. He lives a middle-class life in Chicago with his family. When many believe he dies in a subway accident, he abandon his job, girlfriend, and family. Cross murders a man who discovers he is still alive. He travels to New York and becomes a Communist Party member under a new name. He kills a crooked landlord, Langley Herndon, and then kills Gil Blount, the local head of the Communist Party. Following this murder, Cross has an affair with Blount’s widow. He is finally killed by other members of the Communist Party.
Gladys is Cross's wife and mother of their three children. She does not understand that her husband feels alienated.
Dorothy or "Dot" Powers is a fifteen-year-old girl who Cross has gotten pregnant. He also abandons her when he adopts his new identity.
Ely is the New York City district attorney. Ely and Cross talk at length and agree on many things. Ely realizes Cross is guilty, but she allows his lonely, alienated life to be his punishment.
Gilbert or "Gil" Blount is the local head of the Communist Party. He is selfish, power-hungry, and manipulative—a cynical user of those who believe.
Eva is Gil’s wife. Good-natured and innocent, she sees Cross as similar to her, and they have an affair after her husband’s death. When she finds Cross is the murderer, she kills herself.
Jack is one of Gil’s followers in the Communist Party. He is equally manipulative and cynical. Cross kills him as well as Gil.
Bob is an idealistic railroad porter and organizer for the Communist Party.
Langley is a greedy slumlord—a capitalist version of Gil Blount.
Joe is a a fellow black postal worker killed by Cross when he is recognized after his supposed death.
Cross Damon, as his name implies, is the embodiment of a complex idea. Wright conceived of a man who has been martyred by his Christian upbringing and by the institutionalization of values based on Christian and other Western mythologies that have been rendered obsolete by industrialism, but also a man whose existentialist attempt to create a new and free identity merely frees his egoistic compulsion to replace the defunct Godhead with his own godlike exercise of power. Thus he acts demonically, in the senses both of Satan and tormented demiurge. He is both driven and inspired to obliterate the enemies of human freedom, only to find that the more he defeats them, the more like them he becomes. He is a shockingly violent murderer who yet can claim to be innocent of transcendental and therefore societal guilt. Ironically, he re-creates himself as a heroic outsider, only to find that every other thoughtful person, law-abiding or not, is also an outsider.
As characters, these outsiders differ only inasmuch as the ideas that they embody differ. For example, the Communists are as free of traditional mythology, as violent, and as self-serving as is Cross, but their idea is to enslave, not to set free. Houston, the district attorney, is an “ethical criminal” like Cross, but any violence that he commits is within the law. Although Houston stands outside society in his personal and philosophical points of view, he chooses to conform to societal imperatives, because he knows that a sane human life requires community.
When Eva Blount experiences love and trust, she modifies her idea of meaningful art in the direction of community. It is through Cross’s experience of love, and of betrayal of trust, that he learns the necessity of community and commitment. It is then that he is fully able to appreciate the horror of his life, in its mixture of dread, compulsion, betrayal, and innocence. His deathbed confession of horror and hope seems as much the logical conclusion of his creator’s theory as the result of a heartfelt change in personal perspective.
As Richard Lehan and others have pointed out, Wright’s characterization repeats the...
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