The Spook Who Sat by the Door Characters

Sam Greenlee

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Spook Who Sat by the Door is primarily a portrait of the complex personality of Dan Freeman, and his is the only fully developed character. A football star at Michigan State and a Korean War veteran, Freeman remains a product of the slums. During the CIA training, he sets himself defiantly apart from his fellow candidates, all bourgeois blacks: “Only Freeman was not middle class, and the others knew it. Even had he not dressed as he did, not used the speech patterns and mannerisms of the Chicago ghetto slums, they would have known.”

Freeman’s most significant skill is his chameleonlike ability to change his public persona to accomplish his purposes, becoming an unobtrusive middle-class African American while working for whites, Turk the warlord to gain the respect of the Cobras, and Uncle Tom the terrorist to frighten whites, all the while keeping his true identity to himself. His adoption of a down-home pose during the CIA training makes his black classmates consider him less of a threat to their plans for success. As for those judging the candidates, “Whitey will be more likely to ignore a nigger who approaches the stereotype than these others who think imitation the sincerest form of flattery.” His method works, as the director of the training school tells the general: “I somehow forgot that the man existed. He has a way of fading into the background. You can’t remember his face, or what he looks like, or what he has said, even minutes after you have spoken to him.”

The real Freeman prides himself on his intelligence and sophistication, exulting, when on his own, in his taste in literature, music, art, and clothes. While working for the CIA, he escapes to New York occasionally, shedding his Tom disguise for the trappings of a hipster. He had pondered the danger of leading a double life and decided that “the...

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dan “Turk” Freeman

Dan “Turk” Freeman, the protagonist, an idealistic African American who infiltrates the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) so that he can learn techniques he can develop into guerrilla warfare in the slums of his native Chicago and in other major American cities. He recognizes that he is a “token” of integration. After leaving the CIA, Freeman returns to Chicago as a social worker; organizes the Cobras, a street gang, into a fighting force; and watches them go into action during a civil disturbance.

Pete Dawson

Pete Dawson, a friend of Freeman’s youth, now a Chicago police detective. Freeman hopes to recruit him for the revolution. Instead, when the rioting begins, they become antagonists and eventually fatally wound each other.


Joy, Freeman’s college sweetheart, now a buyer for a Chicago department store. Despite sharing Freeman’s background, she is less committed politically and has stronger middle-class aspirations. She decides to marry someone who will provide her with the economic security she thinks she deserves.

The Dahomey Queen

The Dahomey Queen, a Washington, D.C., prostitute in whom Freeman tries to instill pride in her African roots. After Freeman leaves the CIA, she becomes the mistress of his former boss.

Pretty Willie Du Bois

Pretty Willie Du Bois, the most introspective member of the Cobras. Defensive about the light color of his skin, Pretty Willie is unfocused until Freeman discovers that he writes poetry and short stories and makes him the organization’s propagandist.