Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347

Boy Willie Charles

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Boy Willie Charles, who is thirty years old, with an infectious grin and a boyish charm. He is brash, impulsive, and talkative. He is proud, and he believes that he and whites occupy the world equally. Boy Willie is an independent thinker and possesses a strong sense of what he believes. His immediate goal in the play is to get a piece of land, because, as he says, when you “got a piece of land you’ll find everything else fall right into place.” For him, land is the key to equality, dignity, and freedom.


Berniece, Boy Willie’s sister. Thirty-five years old and a widow, she still blames her brother for the death of her husband three years earlier. She now lives with her uncle, Doaker, and has come to Pittsburgh to work. She is strong, determined, serious-minded, intense, religious, and superstitious.

Doaker Charles

Doaker Charles, the uncle of Berniece and Boy Willie. Forty-seven years old, tall, and thin, he has been a railroad cook for twenty-seven years. He has retired from the world, has no fight left in him, and tries to serve as a peacemaker in the quarrel between Berniece and Boy Willie.


Lymon, Boy Willie’s companion. Twenty-nine years old, he talks little, but when he does it is with a straightforwardness that is often disarming. In his old truck loaded with watermelons, he has come with Boy Willie to Pittsburgh with the intention of selling the watermelons and remaining to find work, have fun, and find a woman.


Avery, a thirty-eight-year-old man, honest and ambitious. He wears a suit and tie with a gold cross around his neck and carries a small Bible. He wants two things: to start his own church and to marry Berniece.

Winning Boy Charles

Winning Boy Charles, Doaker’s brother. Fifty-six years old, he tries to present the image of a successful musician and gambler, but everything about him is old.


Maretha, Berniece’s eleven-year-old daughter.


Grace, a woman who goes home with Boy Willie and later with Lymon.

Boy Willie Charles

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292

Boy Willie is Berniece’s brother and Doaker’s nephew. Unlike them, he has remained in the South, farming the land that their family worked for generations. He dreams of raising enough cash to buy land from the diminished Sutter family so that he can become an independent farmer rather than a debt-ridden share-cropper. Boy Willie plans to raise the cash by selling a load of watermelons and the family piano, which he part owns with Berniece. To this end, he travels North to Pittsburgh. Berniece refuses to sell the piano, however, and there are additional troubles in the past that divide brother and sister. During Boy Willie’s last visit, he was involved in an illegal racket and fell into trouble with the local police. He lied to Berniece’s husband, Crawley, about the racket; Crawley tried to protect him from the police and was killed. Boy Willie departed hastily. His grieving, hostile sister is thus doubly opposed to his plan to part with the family legacy.

Boy Willie complains that Berniece never uses the piano, and he uses this observation to justify his decision to sell it. His complaint is a good example of his pragmatic approach to life: why should not an unused piano be sold to purchase productive land? But it does no justice to Boy Willie’s character to describe him as simply interested in ‘‘getting ahead.’’ Boy Willie reverences the family past in a different way from Berniece. He seeks to revitalize the land worked by his enslaved ancestors and to make that land finally theirs by owning and working it himself. Moreover, he seeks to educate his niece, Maretha, about her background, believing that pride in the past will help her hold her head high.


(The entire section contains 1644 words.)

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Critical Essays