The Vanishing Half Characters
The main characters in The Vanishing Half are Desiree Vignes, Stella Vignes, Jude Winston, and Kennedy Sanders.
- Desiree Vignes is Stella's twin sister. She is expressive and open, and she chooses to remain close to her roots in Mallard.
- Stella Vignes is Desiree's twin sister. Unlike Desiree, Stella chooses to pass as white, leaving her family and heritage behind.
- Jude Winston is Desiree's daughter. She is intelligent and kind and working to become a doctor. She reconnects her family after decades of separation and secrecy.
- Kennedy Sanders is Stella's daughter. She is self-centered and becomes an actress. She is raised as white and knows little of her mother's background.
Desiree and her twin, Stella, are born in 1938 in the small Louisiana town of Mallard. Both of them, like most of the town’s Black residents, are light-skinned and can “pass,” meaning they can appear white to anyone unaware of their background.
Desiree is the more impulsive, demonstrative, and open of the two. It is her idea that she and Stella should leave Mallard in 1954, when they are sixteen, though when she begins to waver from the plan to go, Stella urges her on. After the two first travel to New Orleans and then part from each other, Desiree goes to Washington, D.C., obtaining a job as a fingerprint reader for the FBI.
In contrast to her sister, Desiree seems to embrace her racial identity by falling in love with and marrying attorney Sam Winston, a Black man whose skin is darker than Desiree’s. When Sam becomes abusive, Desiree takes the initiative to leave him, fleeing with her seven-year-old daughter, Jude, and returning to Mallard, where she moves back in with her mother, Adele.
Desiree’s character is a combination of assertiveness and, paradoxically, passivity. She strikes out on her own, obtains employment far from home. But then out of necessity, she returns home and, until the close of the story, lives in Mallard and works at a local diner.
Stella Vignes is Desiree’s twin sister. Looked at from one perspective, Stella is a false, hypocritical person who abandons her family and disavows her background. She chooses to pass as white and even acts in the manner of a bigoted white person, in effect teaching her daughter the n-word. Through her comment that a black man is making her “uncomfortable,” she precipitates the harassment and expulsion of the Walker family from her neighborhood. Her behavior is defensive and at least subconsciously calculated to hide her own identity and protect her daughter, but the depiction of Stella's falseness is a brutal one.
Yet the author, in the end, does not appear to condemn or judge Stella. As reprehensible as Stella’s hypocrisy is, her actions can be understood as her attempt to attain security, a good home, a wealthy husband, and the best schooling for her child. Stella is not necessarily a bad person. She genuinely loves her husband and her daughter. Though she has turned her back on her own family, she does return to them in the end and gives up her wedding ring in order to pay for her mother’s care. If anything can summarize Stella’s character, it is that she makes choices driven by self-interest and which are inevitably open to harsh criticism. Moreover, it can be argued that the fault ultimately lies in the dysfunctional racial dynamic of America, for that is the context in which Stella makes her choices.
Adele Vignes is the mother of Desiree and Stella. Relatively little of Adele is shown, but readers understand that she is a typical hard-working mother who has no choice but to pull her girls out of school and make them go to work after tenth grade. More of Adele is revealed toward the close of the story, when she begins to suffer from dementia. In her condition, she remembers the distant past with greater clarity than the present, recognizing her daughter instantly when Stella returns home after an absence of...
(The entire section is 1,386 words.)