The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

McMillan’s strategy for character creation is closely aligned with her narrative choices. The novel employs omniscient and first-person points of view to reveal characters and their conflicts. When McMillan uses omniscient narration, she brings out her characters’ individuality through their speech, which ranges from Standard English to street-level dialect. When the author uses first-person narration, the characters tell their own stories in their own ways. McMillan’s introduction of the four main characters emphasizes the close connection among form, content, and character that is a hallmark of Waiting to Exhale.

First-person narrative point of view is used to make clear that Savannah, level-headed and confident, already has the voice to tell her story. She is planning to make big changes in her life. She moves from Denver to Phoenix and changes jobs, giving up her position as director of publicity at a major public utility to take a job in the publicity department at a television station, with a huge cut in pay. Savannah is depicted as in control of most of the issues in her life. When she talks about finding a shortage of “decent” black men in Denver and then reveals that she has not been successful with men in the last few years, however, she highlights an area of her life that she does not control. Indeed, as she prepares to drive to Phoenix, her errors in selecting men become evident; she allows Lionel, a man she hardly knows, to drive with her to Phoenix, where he attempts to sponge off her.

Robin also introduces herself in the first person; like Savannah, Robin has made an intelligent analysis of her personal and professional life. She is a successful insurance underwriter, and she has the money to dress the way she wants (she is given to purchasing expensive hairweaves), but she knows what she does not have control...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The events of Waiting to Exhale are told in the first person through Savannah and Robin, and in the third person from the viewpoints of Bernadine and Gloria. The shifts in point of view help the reader to discern one character from another, since there is little difference in voice. This technique also serves to separate each woman from the group as a whole. Following each woman in alternating chapters serves to make each one the protagonist of her own subplot and to give the reader a sense of four different stories. Nevertheless, there is sufficient interaction among the four women when they meet and sufficient emotion displayed to consider them as a composite protagonist in a larger whole.

Gloria and Bernadine are the better rounded of the characters, largely because the third-person point of view allows for a wider scope. The two women also experience the most pain and come closest to a happy ending. Through many years of single parenthood, Gloria nurses, sustains, and teaches her son proper behavior, and in the end she is rewarded. Taric, in spite of bad influences all around him, chooses an honorable and reasonable path to a future life, and Gloria’s helping hand and friendly demeanor to a neighbor quickly win his support and love. Bernadine reaches the point of near collapse, but through her own determination and hard work, she propels herself to a happy ending.

Savannah and Robin have problems with their parents, and their love and concern for them add dimension to their characters. For the most part, however, the two women suffer as a result of their inability to perceive the worth of people they meet and their willingness to seek sex where they find it. Three times in the novel McMillan reveals the dangers associated with promiscuity, including pregnancy out of wedlock, herpes, and AIDS. Robin’s pregnancy at the end of the novel seems more positive than negative, since a child even without a live-in father is a positive value for Robin.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bernadine Harris

Bernadine Harris, one of the four protagonists. She is thirty-six years old, black, and college educated. After a marriage of eleven years, her husband, John, leaves her for his white, twenty-four-year-old secretary. John tries to steal all of their community assets. She spends most of 1990 trying to pull herself together after the divorce and its resulting emotional drain. She accepts the lifestyle of upper-class suburbia, with its attention to material possessions, even when it gives her no personal satisfaction.

Savannah Jackson

Savannah Jackson, one of the protagonists, the former college roommate and friend of Bernadine. She is also thirty-six years old. She has been living in Denver for three years, but she is dissatisfied with its cold weather. She also is dissatisfied with black men and her job, doing publicity for a gas company. She is offered a job in Phoenix and decides to take it even though her salary will decrease by twelve thousand dollars. She wants a new beginning and a chance to meet a man who is her equal. She also wants to be near Bernadine. She is levelheaded and, of all the women, has the least amount of growing to do.

Robin Stokes

Robin Stokes, one of the protagonists, college educated and thirty-five years old. She is an underwriter for a major insurance company and brings millions of dollars in deals to the company. In her personal life, she is...

(The entire section is 590 words.)