Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

Memphis Lee

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Memphis Lee, whose restaurant forms the play’s only set and who has struggled to build a life in Pittsburgh after whites forced him off his Jackson, Mississippi, farm in 1931. Intelligent and determined, he has fought a valiant, if unsuccessful, battle to maintain his establishment amid grinding poverty and urban decay. Although his marriage of twenty-two years has foundered and his restaurant faces the wrecking ball, he still yearns for the financial success that would enable him to reclaim his farm. The sale of his restaurant at the play’s end makes the fulfillment of his wish at least possible.


Wolf, one of Memphis’ customers, a numbers runner. He is a roving peddler of dreams; his illegal trade allows a few fortunate winners to purchase coveted material goods. Although he relishes the reputation his occupation fosters, he is disappointed in love: His relationships with women are limited to brief physical encounters. His interest in Risa never develops into anything substantial.

Risa (Clarissa) Thomas

Risa (Clarissa) Thomas, Memphis’ lethargic employee, who is mentally stable despite having disfigured her shapely legs. She has scarred them so that she can build a relationship on more than a physical basis. Like Sterling, with whom she falls in love, she recognizes Hambone’s value and tries to befriend him.


Holloway, another of Memphis’ few remaining regular customers. He has coped all his life with the ravages of injustice. Noteworthy for his role as the play’s resident philosopher, he is a keen observer of the other characters and the economic system that holds them in bondage. It is his faith in Aunt Ester’s prophetic power that enables him to survive.


Hambone, a retarded man in his late forties and another frequent visitor to the restaurant. He is dissociated from reality. For nine and one-half years, this dysfunctional character has repeated the lines, “He gonna give me my ham. I want my ham.” the ham is the unpaid debt of Lutz, the white owner of a meat market. This pathetic character dies without attaining his goal.

Sterling Johnson

Sterling Johnson, a thirty-year-old former convict who has been out of prison for only one week. He was jailed for five years on a bank robbery conviction. His dismal prospects seem destined to land him back in prison. He sees the inner beauty that lies beneath Risa’s scars and begins a romantic relationship with her. Moreover, he recognizes that Hambone’s sense of purpose makes him “lucky.”


West, the funeral director, who has devoted himself solely to the acquisition of money since his wife’s death. A schemer who has profited handsomely from the deaths of his neighbors, he tries and ultimately fails to cheat Memphis out of a fair price for his restaurant. Lacking Holloway’s spiritual vision, he once rejected Aunt Ester’s command to consign twenty dollars to the river.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1749

Bubba Boy
Bubba Boy is deeply in love with his wife. When she dies of a drug overdose, he steals a dress for her and is arrested.

Aunt Ester
Aunt Ester is an old black woman who tells fortunes and helps people find relief. Holloway claims that she is three hundred and twenty-two years old, which means that she is about as old as African slavery in North America, and this correspondence suggests that she may symbolize the black experience in the United States. She gives advice about how to cope with life rather than change circumstances, and she frequently advises black people to throw money into the river.

Hambone is a mentally disturbed, or possibly mentally handicapped, man who repeats the same two phrases continually. He is in his late forties, and his character description...

(The entire section contains 2232 words.)

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Critical Essays