Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1140
Big Mama is Denver Moore’s grandmother and best friend, and she is quiet and kind. She weaves dresses out of flour sacks and relies on her favorite grandson, Moore, to support her with various chores and other helpful activities, which he does willingly. Her death in a fire has a lasting impact on the young Moore.
Ron Hall was raised in relative comfort, receiving an education and the basic necessities of life. At college he was very interested in finding a life partner, and though he failed miserably in his first few attempts, he eventually found Deborah, whom he married. Hall initially worked as a soup salesman but later became an art dealer, opening a gallery and selling paintings for extortionate prices. He became a wealthy man, though his increased affluence led to estrangement from his wife and an unsympathetic view of those less fortunate than him. After having an affair with a painter in California, he had a change of heart and, on receiving his wife’s forgiveness, became a better husband, agreeing to support her efforts working at a mission for people experiencing homelessness. While his Christian faith had previously been a handy explanation for his success and nothing more, it now became a guide in his philanthropic efforts and encouraged him to befriend Denver. With great patience and kindness, Ron pursues this friendship, and though suspicious at first, Denver is soon won over and repays Ron with invaluable emotional support upon Deborah’s death. Ron has a crisis of faith during his wife’s illness, questioning why God would inflict so much suffering on such a good person. Moore provides Ron with religious reasons for his wife’s suffering and helps him maintain his faith.
Moore’s childhood was blighted by horrors such as the death of his grandmother in a fire, an event the young boy witnessed from start to finish. Nonetheless, he remained a good-natured boy, as evidenced by his offering to help a white woman with her car, an offer for which he was violently punished. Eventually he tired of the slavery-like conditions of his life as a sharecropper and took a train to California, where his lack of education soon rendered him homeless. This lifestyle turned him savage and dangerous, and after a stint in one of the US’s most notorious prisons, he returned to the streets as a notorious figure among the homeless. His attendance of the mission where the Halls serve gradually erodes the armor he has forged for himself, and in the end, his good nature returns to him. He prays constantly for Deborah while she is ill and delivers several words from God to her family that indicate how long and for what reasons Deborah will remain alive. At Deborah’s memorial service, he delivers a powerful speech, during which Hall realizes that Moore himself is the miracle for which he prayed for so long and which his wife’s hard work had helped make a reality.
A spirited and mischievous child, Deborah grew into a confident woman who first attracted her future husband because of her educated Southern accent. In addition to being well-educated, Deborah has a good heart and strong virtues, and though her scientific mind initially leads her to question the doctrines of the faith she was born into, she soon comes to believe strongly in her Christian mission and begins a gratifying life of philanthropy. She demonstrates her kind nature by forgiving the artist with whom her husband had an affair and through her persistent and well-meaning pursuit of Moore, whom she dreamed was...
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a wise man destined to have a positive impact on her and her husband. When she is diagnosed with and ultimately dies of cancer, her long struggle and eventual death serve as the instigation for Moore’s letting down his guard and embracing Hall as his friend. By the time of her death, Moore has bloomed as a Christian, setting aside his violent past in favor dedication to others, both through prayer and good deeds. He takes care of an old man who has racist views and drives Hall’s daughter’s possessions across three states as a favor to Hall. Deborah inspires many people during her life and appears to have a meeting with Jesus shortly before her death, during which she decides to remain on earth long enough to perform one final act of kindness.
Mrs. Davenport is a close friend of the Halls’ who, due to the their wealth, initially fears that she and the Halls won't be able to relate to each other. She is calmed by Deborah’s assurances, however, and soon becomes close friends with the couple. Deborah prays for Mrs. Davenport during her delivery of triplets. The Halls stay in the Davenports’ house during one stage of Deborah’s treatment, and the two families become closer than ever.
Bobby is a white child who befriends the young Denver Moore despite the color line, as he is unaware of the expectation that he not play with black children. Later, during Moore’s ordeal with three young Klansmen, Bobby and his aunt come to Moore’s defense.
Goldberg is a skilled art dealer whom the Halls initially mistrust due to his flashy appearance. He eventually gives Hall his first big break.
Ballantine is a racist old man, crippled by a beating he received, whom Moore rescues and protects. Ballantine lives in squalor, a condition which Moore endeavors to relieve, and enjoys cigarettes as one of the only pleasures left to him. After finding out that Moore is a Christian, the old man regrets his negative view of the religion, as well as his racism, and agrees to join Moore at a church service.
Altman is Hall’s business partner from New York. Though he is Jewish, he has never really believed in God, until he enters Deborah’s room shortly prior to her death and has a powerful religious experience. The implication is that this man’s conversion was what Deborah had remained alive for.
Regan and Carson
Regan and Carson are the Halls’ children. They experience their mother’s suffering and deliverance alongside their father.
Daphene is very different from her twin, Deborah, in terms of character, but she stands by her sister during Deborah’s illness. The Halls are staying at Daphene’s home when Deborah has one of her relapses, and Daphene becomes the last person to see Deborah alive.
Pearlie May is Moore’s aunt and lives in poverty with her husband. After initially feeling suspicious of Hall due to his race, she warms to him and shows him hospitality, talking with pride about the new indoor toilet she has bought with her savings. Hall is very shocked by the conditions in which she lives.