The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Kenan contrasts the older and newer generations of African Americans in order to highlight their differences. His younger characters are being drawn into mainstream America through their better educational and vocational opportunities, their exposure to the mass media, their access to better transportation, and, to some extent, their integration with their white neighbors. The older people simply cannot understand what is happening. They complain about the behavior of the younger people and give them advice that often falls on deaf ears. In A Visitation of Spirits, the older characters such as Ezekiel Cross serve as a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the real action of the story, which inevitably involves the young people; they are the only ones whose activities are of real significance.

The younger characters, particularly Horace Cross and Jimmy Greene, are portrayed from the inside, whereas the older characters are portrayed from the outside, from their behavior and their conversation. Kenan describes Horace’s and Jimmy’s thoughts and feelings in such detail that the novel in many places comes close to stream-of-consciousness writing.

Throughout the novel, Horace is cut off from everyone else by his psychosis. He is by far the most important character in the novel, which is essentially the story of his mental breakdown. His characterization, therefore, presents the greatest creative challenge to the author, and it is here that...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Horace reveals the state of the spurned in the United States. His struggle against himself and his struggle to be accepted result not in acceptance but rather in insanity and death. Horace perceives in his grandfather and great-aunt “an armor one wore to beat the consequences, invisible, but powerful and evident.” Horace is, throughout the novel, unable to clothe himself in this armor and so cannot endure. Horace attempts to belong, to join a community, throughout his brief life. As a grade school boy, his friend John Anthony had been his partner in science projects, field trips, sack races, and a love of books, “always books.” John Anthony, however, became a sports hero and an auto mechanics student. He becomes popular with the girls, and he grows distant from Horace—the good student—who tries to replace John Anthony with an amorphous academia.

Horace’s academic ambitions place him within reach of Gideon Stone, with whom he is assigned to complete a science project, the ultimate result of which is Horace’s first homosexual encounter. Unable to accept his own sexual urges, Horace fights against his feelings by joining the track team and beginning to socialize with a group of “white boys” at the high school, boys who have moved to Tims Creek recently. His friendship with those other outcasts from the school is forbidden by his grandfather when Horace comes to the Thanksgiving dinner table with an earring in his newly pierced ear. Horace, no longer the determined student, must watch as Gideon steps into the group and earns a college scholarship. Horace never finds that armor “in the edge of his grandfather’s voice, in the stoop of his great-aunt’s walk. . . . Integrity. Dignity. Pride.” His night of visitation with spirits he spends naked and vulnerable.

James Malachai Greene occupies an uneasy space: He is the religious and...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Horace Thomas Cross

Horace Thomas Cross, a sixteen-year-old adolescent of predominantly African American ancestry with one white ancestor who was a leading citizen of the community. Throughout the novel, Horace undergoes a severe psychotic episode triggered by his conflict over his homosexuality and exacerbated by his interest in the supernatural. In his desperate quest to find answers to his life problems, he has resorted to necromancy. He has a nervous breakdown. Throughout the novel, he wanders around town nearly naked and carrying his grandfather’s rifle.

The Reverend James (Jimmy) Malachai Greene

The Reverend James (Jimmy) Malachai Greene, Horace’s cousin, a minister of the Southern Baptist Church who is in his twenties. He has gotten over his earlier homosexual conflicts but is now undergoing conflicts of religious faith. He wishes to be able to counsel people in distress but feels incompetent to do so. Although he buries himself in his work, he does not feel satisfied with what he is doing; he believes he is only going through the motions of being a preacher to please his many doting, sacrificing relatives. He is also frustrated with people’s obstinate, self-destructive behavior. He encounters an extreme example of such behavior when he sees Horace Cross carrying the rifle. At first it appears that the deranged youth may have decided to kill Jimmy; eventually, it becomes apparent that Horace has decided,...

(The entire section is 534 words.)