The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The most important character in this novel is Angela Murray, since the entire story is about her intellectual, artistic, and moral development. Every incident and every other character is described from Angela’s point of view, although the narration is in the third person. This literary device has the effect of making Angela seem extremely perceptive and sensitive, as she is intended to be. She analyzes the people she meets with unerring accuracy; however, she generally keeps her own counsel, and her observations and conclusions are conveyed to readers through the dispassionate third-person narrator.

Angela’s character evolves in the face of the disillusioning experiences she undergoes during the thirteen years spanned by the novel. Fauset highlights these experiences with significant scenes that strike directly at readers’ emotions. For example, when Virginia first comes to New York, Angela is at the train depot to meet her. Just before the train arrives, Roger Fielding suddenly appears by chance and stands talking to Angela, who wants him to believe she is white and dreads having him discover that the dark-skinned Virginia is her sister. When Virginia comes forward to greet her beloved sister after a long period of separation, Angela makes the bitter decision to pretend she does not know her. This moving scene, more than any other in the novel, makes Angela realize how much she had changed. The memory keeps coming back to haunt her.

Another significant scene occurs when Angela and Fielding are having dinner at a fashionable restaurant and...

(The entire section is 644 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The continuing focus on Angela allows the development of the duality in her character—her inner sympathy with her race, her external rejection of it. The characterization allows, on one hand, for the reader’s questioning of Angela’s materialistic external values and, on the other, for the reader’s understanding of the inner evolution of Angela’s self-esteem and race identification. Most of the other figures are, in some way, parallel with Angela, and they serve symbolically as reflections of various, often contradictory, aspects of Angela’s self. Mattie Murray, for example, is the Angela who can pass as white; Mattie has achieved a balance between this external “white” self and the black self she really is—Angela’s progress throughout the novel is to achieve that same kind of balance, only in a more complex world than that of her mother. Virginia is the external reminder to Angela of that black self that should be publicly acknowledged; Angela’s warring with Virginia is symbolic of the war between her own white and black selves. Anthony’s struggle with his racial consciousness parallels Angela’s, and his emotional confrontations with his own actions bring to life authentic passions in Angela. Thus, the black Anthony and the white Roger represent the conflict within Angela between a true expression of love for others and a false passion based on selfish ends. Rachel is symbolic of the unity possible between self and art, a unity that Angela...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Angela Murray

Angela Murray or Angèle Mory, an art student struggling to survive in the art world. The most important fact in the life of this attractive, ambitious, and idealistic young protagonist is that she can “pass” as white, although she is approximately three-quarters black. The story follows her career from late childhood in a black ghetto in Philadelphia to relative success in the artistic world of New York City in her late twenties. By that time, she is fully accepted as white and seems well on her way to professional and financial success. Wealthy white men court her. She has made great sacrifices to attain her position: She already has been the mistress of one rich white man and has further sacrificed her moral principles by alienating herself from her younger sister, who has dark skin and would be unacceptable in the racist circles in which Angela moves. Eventually, Angela realizes that the advantages of being white are not worth the humiliation of having to lie to everyone she knows, both black and white. She publicly acknowledges her mixed blood and accepts the consequences.

Virginia (Jinny) Murray

Virginia (Jinny) Murray, Angela’s younger sister, a music teacher. This talented, refined, sweet-tempered girl aspires to social and financial advancement like her sister but has neither the desire nor the opportunity to enter the white world. Consequently, when she follows Angela to New York, she enters the world of black artists and intellectuals active in the Harlem Renaissance; she is happy and comfortable in this world. It is mainly Jinny’s example that makes Angela realize she has...

(The entire section is 677 words.)