Seduction by Light Characters

Al Young

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The energy of Seduction By Light’s narrative is sustained through the sheer dramatic force, poetic insights, and folk wisdom of the novel’s protagonist and overwhelming presence, Mamie Franklin, who is also the novel’s first-person narrator. Mamie endures and triumphs over circumstances, including an earthquake that devastates her home and that threatens her physical health, through a spiritual impulse that allows her to perceive a linkage between the living and the dead and an interconnectedness between all persons:I dont go to church much anymore—only at Easter and Christmastime—but there’s a church in my heart I slip into now and then. The message I get whensoever I turn inside is always the same: There’s somethin bigger than me or the world or the whole universe that I’ll have to be answerin to by and by.

In spite of the trouble Mamie experiences—an attempted robbery of her home, the death of her beloved common-law husband, the destruction of her worldly possessions, and her death through the injuries incurred during the earthquake—her course is toward a liberation from the worries of the physical world and a heightened perspective from which she can experience a final and lasting peace: “And pretty soon I could tell at last there was nothin left to see but the sea, and nothin left to do but keep on swimmin upstream in that sweet, bright river of light.”

Although Mamie is a psychic whose out-of-body travels...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mamie Franklin

Mamie Franklin, the protagonist, a former rhythm and blues singer and minor screen actress from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Hailed in the 1950’s for her roles as a domestic in Hollywood films, Mamie is, until her death in her forties, employed as a housekeeper for an eccentric white couple in Beverly Hills. Mamie’s psychic ability allows her to communicate with the dead.

Burley Cole

Burley Cole, Mamie’s common-law husband, father of Kendall, stepfather to Mamie’s son, Benjie, and an avid junk collector. Burley dies of a heart attack early in the novel but remains an important character after his death. Lost in a netherworld between heaven and Earth, he exists as a ghost who reports to Mamie on important events in her life such as the meeting between Benjie and Harry Silvertone.

Benjamin (Benjie) Franklin

Benjamin (Benjie) Franklin, the son who was conceived out of wedlock by Mamie and Harry Silvertone. Named after the American patriot and inventor, Benjie is a young, talented screenwriter who is completing his master’s degree at the prestigious University of California, Los Angeles, film school. A comedy script cowritten by Benjie and his friend Nono is accepted as a literary property by Benjie’s natural father, Harry, after their relationship is revealed to Benjie.

Harry Silvertone

Harry Silvertone, the agent and film producer who helped Mamie start her film career in the 1950’s. Harry’s love affair with Mamie, whom he employed as a housekeeper, resulted in the birth, out of wedlock, of Benjie. Harry eventually accepts his responsibility for his son by helping him to get a script produced and helping to free him from legal troubles.


Theo, a handsome young man who waits tables at the Railroad Croissant café. He is decades younger than Mamie. The two sleep together after a dinner date at Mamie’s Santa Monica apartment on the night of the great earthquake.

Brett Toshimura

Brett Toshimura, the news reporter for a Los Angeles television station whose report on the aftermath of the Santa Monica earthquake leads to a massive show of public support for Mamie.