A Visitation of Spirits Characters
by Randall Kenan

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A Visitation of Spirits Characters

Horace Cross is the main character in this novel. He is a young gay black man from Tims Creek, North Carolina. It is the story of Horace's internal struggles as he navigates growing up with a religious family that condemns homosexuality. He is an average teenager with a geeky love of comic books. However, through his inner dialogue we come to learn of the struggles Horace faces as a young gay black man in a Baptist community. He becomes so frustrated by his situation he decides he wants to turn himself into a bird and fly away. He attempts undergoing a ritual that ultimately fails, sending him into a type of chaos.

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Jimmy Greene is Horace’s older cousin who is highly involved in the community. He is a minister and the principal of the local high school. He comes across as a fake person, who, despite being deeply religious, lacks any sense of self. When family and community members come to Jimmy for advice, he is only able to quote the Bible.

Uncle Ezekiel is an important character to the development of Jimmy’s character. He confronts Jimmy about the Bible and its limitations. He ultimately asks that Jimmy search in his heart and not just the Bible for answers.

Aunt Ruth gets in an argument with Ezekiel while they are visiting Cousin Asa. Jimmy tries to intervene as a reverend should; however, he is younger and the nephew of Ruth and Ezekiel. The two only stop fighting when they bond over playing a video game with a little girl.

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 author displays the full range of his talent. Not only does the reader experience Horace’s present hallucinations of demons and monsters, but the reader, through Horace’s memories, also experiences important episodes in the unfortunate young man’s past. Horace becomes so caught up in his hallucinations that he actually loses all awareness of his real identity; he becomes completely possessed by some nameless, malevolent spirit.

Kenan’s younger characters are remarkably taciturn in comparison to his loquacious older characters. The author uses his gift for dialogue to characterize the members of the older generation and manages to convey the unique flavor of their North Carolina dialect without resorting to bizarre orthographical constructions. It is through the conversations and monologues of the older characters that the reader is made to appreciate the rich history and traditions of the Old South.

Kenan obviously favors the young in the conflict between young and old, but he does not set his older characters up as straw figures to be knocked down. The reader is made to feel...

(The entire section is 1,998 words.)