The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

There are no characters as such in this experimental novel. The reader is given very little reliable information about the four people mentioned in the text, Cora Hull, Canada Jackson, Dale, and the narrator.

Cora Hull is at the center of the novel; the other characters, including the narrator, are usually described in relation to her. Cora may have been killed at the beginning of the novel. Therefore, the rest of the novel may be looked at as an attempt to explain and define Cora’s life. The short, episodic quality of the text includes many intriguing and sometimes contradictory descriptions of Cora.

Cora is presented in many moods and in many ways. Her life, however, does not seem to have a center or a definitive purpose. At one moment, she is a beginning actress who tries out for Off-Broadway shows. Later, she is described as being a famous actress. She is also described, variously, as a member of a black revolutionary group, a member of a white revolutionary group, and a feminist. Cora is a complicated character described in fleeting images that do not give a complete picture of her.

All three of the other characters, including the narrator, are described in relation to Cora. Canada, Dale, and the narrator are suitors of Cora, but none has any lasting relationships. These characters are also described in images that give impressions but form no clear picture. All the characters are in a constant state of flux, never staying...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, who functions as a screening device for the novel as well as being a primary character. Although nameless and never described, the narrator self-reflexively manipulates the plot and characters of this episodic novel. Through repeated references to the act of writing, the narrator playfully deconstructs the text while in the process of composing it. The narrator is whimsical, forgetful, and unreliable. The other characters are seen exclusively through the narrator’s eyes. The narrator refuses to tell a consistent story that follows traditional discursive conventions. Little is known of the personal history of the narrator other than that he lives in Manhattan. The narrator exists through the act of writing, and his identity is inextricably tied to that process. Throughout the novel, the narrator remains aloof, detached, and fearful of his advancing age.

Cora Hull

Cora Hull, an African American actress who lives in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. At various times, she has intimate relationships with the three other characters in the novel. She is often in rehearsal for plays but never seems to have any long-term commitments, either to the stage or the other characters. She may have been killed in a mysterious bombing episode that occurs in the beginning of the novel, but because of the convoluted time frame of the plot, the reader cannot be sure. She is described as being twenty-five years old and as having been born and brought up in Atlanta.

Canada Jackson

Canada Jackson, an African American who may be part of a black revolutionary group. He is a serious suitor of Cora and in this way is a rival of both Dale and the narrator. Canada collects weapons and keeps a gun in the silverware drawer in the kitchen of his apartment. He is also an actor in New York.


Dale, an Off-Broadway actor who flits in and out of the text and remains largely undefined. The narrator professes to have the most difficult time constructing Dale. Furthermore, Dale threatens the narrator’s sense of self. As another suitor of Cora, Dale causes more problems than Canada. The narrator is very jealous of Dale and often sends him on long journeys.