The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Henry Adams is presented as an innocent who must be battered about by life before he can begin understanding his racist, militaristic, insensitive society. He is a victim of this society, wanting success desperately but being denied even meager rewards. He trusts in the American Dream, believes that his country is the land of opportunity, and thinks that, since baseball is America’s pastime, he must be treated fairly in his effort to break into the sport. His naive belief that “through faith and perseverance and trust” he can create a meaningful life is dispelled by each of his experiences, making him just “a lost Southern nomad, bewildered in the big city.” Beckham presents him more as a type than as a fully realized character, representative of the effects of the contradictions in American life on a typical African American.

Henry’s goal, beyond providing for Beatrice and playing baseball, is to understand these contradictions: “That’s all I want: just for things to mean something, to make sense.” He is handicapped by not knowing how to do anything other than play baseball. “He felt he knew how dreadful a fish stuck in the sand felt,” the author writes at one point. Henry attempts to overcome his insecurity through clichés: “Well, keep the faith, he told himself. Things will look up if you don’t give up. Keep on pushing.” Such banalities are poor armor in a hostile environment.

A contradictory side of Henry himself becomes apparent during the war. He enters the Army with a simplistic patriotism, and once in combat, he discovers that he does not want to kill anyone or anything, yet he finds himself enthusiastically clubbing seals to death. He is an unformed man too easily swayed by the emotions of the moment. Under Mack’s tutelage, Henry becomes politically committed without truly understanding his friend’s revolutionary rhetoric. He becomes engaged emotionally rather than intellectually and pays for his naïveté. Beckham depicts him...

(The entire section is 814 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The name of the protagonist of Runner Mack ironically recalls a classic work of American literature: The Education of Henry Adams (1907). Barry Beckham’s Henry Adams gets his painful education in a world which contains two kinds of people: those who mouth words which they are programmed to say, like the executives at the Home Manufacturing Company and the military officer in Alaska, and those who genuinely communicate their thoughts. It is only through those who view the world with independent minds that Henry can grow in understanding. Although Henry comes to disagree with his father’s philosophy of humility, he can at least follow his reasoning: that a really big man does not become angry. Sometimes Henry can talk to Beatrice, but generally he must simply hear her complaints, which do keep him in touch with the real world in which he and she must live. At the Home Manufacturing Company, no one will admit that he does not know what he is doing. Finally, Henry’s supervisor, whom neither Henry nor the reader knows as other than “Mr.” Boye, communicates with Henry, beginning with baseball talk and ending with the admission that he has never understood what he is doing or even what the plant is making. Later, Boye is reprimanded.

The person who most deeply reveals himself to Henry is Runner Mack, who has learned enough about the world to decide on revolution. Runner Mack can explain to Henry how hollow are many of the promises in...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Henry Adams

Henry Adams, a black baseball player. A wiry, athletic, and relatively short young man, Adams has come north from Mississippi with a clear goal: to become a baseball star. Instead, he is hit by a truck, employed in a meaningless job, terrorized by police, humiliated by the baseball team that had called him to a tryout, drafted and sent to a war in Alaska, and finally taken back to the northern city for a revolution that fails to materialize. As the novel ends, another truck is bearing down on him.

Beatrice Mark Adams

Beatrice Mark Adams, Henry’s wife, another native of Mississippi. She is young, light-skinned, graceful, and charmingly seductive. A much-loved child, she insisted on marrying Henry, despite her father’s conviction that he could never support her. In the northern city where Henry takes her, she spends most of her time in their inadequate apartment, troubled by the air pollution, which makes it impossible for her to breathe, and by the maddening level of urban noise. Just as Henry is about to leave for Alaska, she tells him that she is pregnant. When he returns, he finds that she can no longer hear what he says: The noise has made her deaf.

Runnington (Runner) Mack

Runnington (Runner) Mack, a black soldier and revolutionary. A tall, mustached man from the West whose every other word is profane, he is a natural leader. When Henry encounters him in an Alaska...

(The entire section is 516 words.)