Through the Ivory Gate Characters

Rita Dove

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Virginia’s development and point of view are at the center of the novel. She believably changes from a tentative although enthusiastic young puppeteer to a woman in control of her life. Her discovery of the family secret really plays a minor part in her development, which comes mostly from her practice of her art and the observation of the effect of her art on others. She comes across as a sympathetic young artist who must deal with racial prejudice as well as the general indifference to art and culture that was part of the era.

Belle, her mother, flees from life, and it seems to Virginia that her childhood has been punctuated by her mother’s inexplicable warnings. These make more sense after Virginia discovers the family secret. Belle’s sense of personal outrage has prevented her from full participation in her family and has created barriers between herself and her children. She is hyper-respectable, perhaps partly in reaction to the shock of her husband’s adolescent incestuous relationship. Although she loves her children, she seems to be constantly warning them not to expose themselves to any risks—in effect, not to live.

Ernie King has always made his children’s education his prime interest. He has done most of the parenting, especially after the move, and has instilled in his children a love for history and culture. He carries a mysterious sense of sadness, which is accounted for by Aunt Carrie’s revelation. He has been...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Virginia King

Virginia King, the protagonist, a college-educated puppeteer, musician, and actress. She returns to her hometown of Akron, Ohio, from Phoenix, Arizona, to serve as an artist-in-residence at a public school in Akron. Plagued with unresolved feelings about her family’s past, she determines to discover the truth about her family and herself. She has a series of unsatisfactory relationships with men and must decide whether to pursue her career and search for identity or to marry.

Belle King

Belle King, Virginia’s embittered mother, unforgiving of her husband’s sexual relationship with his sister and exacting in her demands on her children. She indulges herself in selfish pain. She tries to help her children understand the difficulties of being African American.

Ernest King

Ernest King, Virginia’s father, the first African American chemist to work for Goodyear. He is a decent, caring man whose affair with his sister, Carrie, in his youth has driven him to emotional isolation from his wife and a passion for traveling to historical and cultural sites.

Claudia King

Claudia King, Virginia’s younger sister, a rebellious teenager experiencing “growing pains.”

Ernest King, Jr.

Ernest King, Jr., Virginia’s brother and ally.

Aunt Carrie

Aunt Carrie, Ernest’s sister and Virginia’s aunt....

(The entire section is 604 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dove uses a third-person limited point of view, with all information filtered through Virginia’s perspective. The characters in Through the Ivory Gate are therefore presented as Virginia sees them. Because she is at a pivotal point in her life, some particularly relevant characters from her past appear in dreams and memories that shape her current decisions about characters in the present. Her reservations about Terry Murray, for example, are the result of her relationship with Clayton Everett, and her willingness to benefit from Grandmother Evans’s advice stems from the beginning of the novel, when her grandmother asserts herself as an authority figure.

With the exception of Belle, the African American women are presented favorably. Virginia’s grandmother, who speaks from her “throne,” is the storyteller matriarch whose clear moral vision absolves her children of their incest, understands Belle’s pain, and guides Virginia on her journey to discovery. Despite her sin, Aunt Carrie emerges as a strong, nurturing woman, cursed by being unattractive, isolated and alone as a young widow, and devoted to her brother’s children, particularly Virginia.

The only two white females from her past both serve to reflect on Virginia’s some-what ambivalent feelings about race. Karen, the second-grade friend who defines her as “Nigger,” not only makes her aware of prejudice but also seems to spur her to act “white” by straightening her hair and becoming the only African American majorette. Kelly, her white university friend, “imagined they were nearly sisters” but did not understand the real...

(The entire section is 667 words.)