Jeeter Lester, a shiftless, starving tobacco farmer living in rural Georgia. He resides in a ramshackle cabin that was once part of a prosperous homestead. The land has since been depleted by generations of tobacco plantings followed by cotton crops. Jeeter has an obsession with the soil, and every spring he promises to plant a cotton crop but somehow never gets around to it. The economic effects of the Depression in the South are too great for him to overcome. He refuses to leave his beloved land to work elsewhere. He says of his plight, “City ways ain’t God-given. It wasn’t intended for a man with the smell of the land in him to live in a mill in Augusta.” Jeeter is a tragic figure who cannot control his own destiny. In the course of the play, Jeeter dramatically demonstrates that he is lazy, selfish, lecherous, and brutally degenerate. Racked by poverty and starvation, and lost in reveries over a spring planting that will never come to pass, Jeeter fights desperately to keep his beloved land. That losing struggle proves to be his one saving grace.
Ada Lester, Jeeter’s haggard, pellagra-ridden, and long-suffering wife. Ada, in her mid-fifties, has been married to Jeeter for forty years. She habitually chews on a snuff stick to ease the pangs of hunger. She has given birth to seventeen children, of whom her favorite is the youngest, Pearl, whose biological father was not Jeeter. Throughout the play, Ada expresses one modest wish: that she be buried with a stylish dress. Her selfless love for Pearl leads to the daughter’s long-desired freedom, her own accidental death by the new automobile, and Jeeter’s loss of the land at the end of the play.
Dude Lester, Jeeter’s sixteen-year-old son, as lazy as his father. Dude has no ambition in life...
(The entire section is 764 words.)