The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Wright reveals Mariah’s character through the stream-of-consciousness technique, which involves Mariah’s thoughts, her conversations with God, and her reactions to and evaluations of the events that unfold before her. Because she has been judged, she herself judges; she is harsh on white society, Jacob, African American men, and herself. Unlike the other characters, with the possible exception of Jacob, Mariah develops, changes, and emerges as a complex human being. She is religious, but her chatty God-talk suggests that her concern is with the present, with the survival of her children, rather than with an afterlife. Her superstitions put her at odds with the religious women of the community. Her statements to others, particularly Jacob and her children, are usually at odds with her thoughts and behavior. Unable to express her love verbally, she vents her frustrations and anger but immediately regrets her words and actions and then blames herself, as with Rabbit’s death.

With the exception of Vyella, who seeks Mariah’s forgiveness, the other women in the novel tend to be flat, one-dimensional characters who serve as background to the action. Aunt Saro Jane is more interested in avoiding trouble at the funeral than in discovering the truth; Bertha Upshur is devoted to protecting the public image of her husband and son; Miss Bannie is a cowering pathetic racist alone in the woods; and Mrs. Cranston at the welfare office is a smug, officious white...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mariah “Rah” Upshur

Mariah “Rah” Upshur, the protagonist, a young African American woman who is determined to escape from the poverty, ignorance, and religious hypocrisy of her community and save her children, even if it means leaving her husband, Jacob. Earlier, she had been driven from the church because of her pregnancy out of wedlock. Mariah finally is married to Jacob, but she is not reconciled to the church. In the course of the novel, she loses two children, leaves Tangierneck with her family and takes work with them as migrant laborers, and returns to her home.

Jacob Upshur

Jacob Upshur, Mariah’s husband, whose commitment to the land being stolen from him by his white relatives leads him to ignore his real circumstances. Though a religious man, he fathers a son, Ned, by his adopted sister, Vyella. He nevertheless condemns Mariah for bearing Dr. Albert Grene’s daughter, Bardetta Tometta. He seems unable to break away from his father, who taught him to believe that he is the master of his world. He is well intentioned but ineffectual.

Percy Upshur

Percy Upshur, Jacob’s father, whose sexual relationship with Miss Bannie, a white relative, causes him to lose his land and, ultimately, his life. He rules his family and is responsible for Jacob’s weakness.

Bertha Ann Upshur

Bertha Ann Upshur, Percy’s wife and a thorn in Mariah’s side....

(The entire section is 540 words.)