Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 912
Al is one of ‘‘Mo's men,’’ a black revolutionary organization. He is described as a "closet homosexual, capable, determined, very young.’’ In the end of the play, Al turns out to be the informer who has betrayed his fellow revolutionaries. In a scuffle that ensues, Al and John simultaneously shoot one another, and they both die.
Grandma Wilhemina Brown
Grandma Wilhemina Brown is Mattie's mother, Jeff s grandmother. She is described as "a stately, fair-skinned black woman in her middle eighties’’ and ‘‘very alive.’’ Grandma is drunk just about all the time, from the liquor bottles she hides in the kitchen. She often sings or hums ‘‘Rock of Ages’’ and other hymns. She also frequently mentions her deceased husband, whom she idealizes as a model man. Grandma immediately disapproves of Ann, whom she perceives to be roping Jeff into marriage.
Chips, in his early twenties, is one of ‘‘Mo's Men,’’ a local revolutionary organization. He is described as ‘‘a tall, rangy young man,’’ a ‘‘sexually perverted young fool'' who "has an air of 'I'm a bad nigger' about him.'' Chips is sexually aggressive towards Ann. When Jeff later catches Chips attempting to rape Ann at gunpoint, he wrestles Chips' s gun out of his hands and threatens him with it. Gail
Gail, twenty-one, is described as ‘‘sincere and very much in love with Mo.’’ Gail pleads with Jeff to help straighten Mo out, as she feels his revolutionary organization has gotten out of hand. Jeff reluctantly promises her that he will. Mo
Mo, twenty-four, is described as ‘‘athletic-looking.’’ He is the head of a small group of black revolutionaries and is further described as a "young black leader of underlying beauty and integrity.''
Skeeter is one of "Mo's Men,'' a black revolutionary organization. He is described as "basically good, but hung on dope.’’
Dr. Dudley Stanton
Dr. Dudley Stanton, in his late fifties, is a very close friend of John, with whom he shares sarcastic banter as well as heart-felt mutual love. Dudley informs John that his wife, Mattie, has been diagnosed with cancer, and will need radium treatment. Dudley is also John's drinking buddy, and often accompanies him to the local bar. He is described as "cynical, classic Jamaican, lover of poetry,'' and he speaks in "a thick and beautiful Jamaican accent.'' The content of Dudley's speech, however, is extremely crude. Dudley's thematic significance in the play is threefold: He is an example of the deep, loving camaraderie between men; a representative of the successful black middle class; and a cynic in regard to both the racial oppression of African Americans and to any efforts at political action.
Ann Vanderguild, twenty-two, a nurse, is described as a ‘‘strong black South African girl, lover of quality.’’ She is also ‘‘very attractive’’ and ‘‘sparkles on top of a deep brooding inner core.’’ Ann's father has been in prison in South Africa for nine years, because he chose to take the blame for the anti-government activities of his two sons.
Ann, who fell in love with Jeff while caring for him at a hospital in Canada, unexpectedly shows up at the Williams' house the day before Jeff returns home. Everyone immediately perceives that she has arrived without Jeff's knowledge to get him to marry her. Grandma remains disdainful of her, but Mattie, Jeff's mother, is almost immediately won over and accepts her love of Jeff. Jeff proposes to Ann, and the two talk of marrying within the week.
Jeff Williams, twenty-five, is the son of Mattie and John. He is described as ‘‘thoughtful, wild, a credit to his father.'' There is also "a heavy seriousness about him, frosted over with the wildness he has inherited from his father.’’ In addition, ‘‘His presence is strong and commanding.’’ Jeff's childhood friend Mo, now the leader of a local revolutionary organization, and Mo's men attempt to bully Jeff into joining their organization. Jeff, however, does not agree with their politics and plans to become a lawyer.
John Williams, in his fifties, is Jeff’s father. He is described as "an alive poet,'' and his poem "The River Niger’’ is an important element of the play. John is a housepainter, as well as an alcoholic. He sneaks drinks, borrows money from his friend Dudley to pay the rent, and frequently takes off for the local bar, the Apple, when he is supposed to be at home. Mattie, his wife, is indulgent of his weaknesses because, she explains, he wanted to become a lawyer but had to quit school to support a number of Mattie's relatives who migrated to Harlem from the South. At the end of the play, John heroically takes responsibility for the illegal activities of the young black revolutionaries and is shot to death. Like Ann's father, who took the blame and went to prison for her brothers' illegal revolutionary activities, John sacrifices his life to save his son. Mattie Williams
Mattie Williams, in her fifties, is Jeff's mother, John's wife, and Grandma's daughter. She is described as ‘‘an embittered but happy woman.’’ Although she does not learn this until late in the play, Mattie is dying of cancer. Mattie adores both her son and her husband, and completely accepts them as they are. She secretly condones her husband's drinking, because she feels that his ambitions of becoming a lawyer were dashed by the need to support her extended family.
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