"Way in the Middle of the Air" Characters
The main characters in “Way in the Middle of the Air” include Samuel Teece, Clara Teece, and Grandpa Quartermain.
- Samuel Teece is a white hardware store owner who habitually participates in lynchings and is enraged when he hears that the town’s Black citizens are leaving for Mars.
Clara Teece is Samuel Teece’s wife. Upset over the loss of their Black servant, Lucinda, she unsuccessfully begs her husband for help.
- Grandpa Quartermain is an older white man who reins in Samuel Teece’s fury and volunteers to take the place of Teece’s Black employee, Silly.
Last Updated on January 8, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745
Samuel Teece is a white man who owns a hardware store. He is evidently fairly popular; there are a number of other men gathered on the porch of his store companionably at the beginning of the story. However, he is also defined by his racism. He has a Black employee, Silly, who he has made "sign" a contract to which Teece wants to hold him, even though Silly is illiterate and did not know what he was signing. When Teece discovers that the "niggers" are all leaving, he is outraged, suggesting that the militia should be called and that this shouldn't be allowed. As the Black people continue to leave, Teece becomes increasingly incensed and tries to dissuade them with claims that Mars will be filled with monsters or that the rockets will explode. He has a Black servant, Lucinda, who works for his family, but while his wife is fond of her, Samuel seems to see her only as a functional object. At the end of the story, it is revealed that Teece has actually habitually lynched Black people, and he cannot now imagine what he will do at night. He comforts himself with the fact that Silly still called him "mister" as he left; Teece needs to believe that he is better than somebody.
Clara is Samuel's wife. She is devastated to be losing her Black servant, Lucinda, whom she thinks of as part of the family. Her racism is of a more benevolent kind than her husband’s; she is willing to try and offer Lucinda better working conditions in order to keep her, such as raising her pay and giving her more days off, and she seems genuinely to love Lucinda. However, when she cries to her husband for help in retaining Lucinda, Samuel tells her she is making a scene and sends her home.
Grandpa Quartermain is an older white man who is a steadying influence on Teece. He knows that Teece is extremely racist and tries at times to talk him down from his heights of fury. He encourages Teece to let Belter go, and he volunteers to step in and take Silly's place, polishing the brass, so that he can leave. He doesn't seem so rigidly wedded to the idea that he, as a white man, is better than a Black man. At the end of the story, when Teece sets off in the car intending to do violence, Grandpa goes with him, presumably to rein him in should he need to.
Belter is a Black man who owes Teece fifty dollars. When Teece sees him passing on a horse, he demands that he stop and work for Teece until the fifty dollars is paid off. Belter bargains and argues with Teece, to little avail. Eventually, Belter is rescued by another, older Black man who encourages the crowd to donate money so that they all, together, can pay Belter's debt. This incenses Teece, but he is forced to let Belter go.
The Older Black Man
The older Black man in the crowd who steps in to help Belter is symbolic of the unity of the group as a whole. He recognizes that Belter is being pressured by white men into missing his opportunity. Unwilling to let this happen, he appeals to the masses for assistance, and led by him, they all come together to raise the necessary fifty dollars and help Belter pay off his debt and lead. Later, it transpires that this has been happening all up and down the tide of departing Black people: those who have money have been paying the debts of those who have none, to make sure that nobody is left behind.
Silly is the young Black man who works for Teece at his hardware store. His name is suggestive and may indicate how Teece thinks of him. Certainly, Silly cannot read and yet has signed a contract of employment; however, Silly himself seems to realize that this is not really binding, telling Teece that anyone can make an X on a piece of paper. When Teece tries to make Silly stay and insists that he will lock the young man in a room if he does not, the other white men, led by Grandpa, intervene. As he drives away in his family's car, Silly demands to know what Teece will do at night now. He evidently knows about Teece's part in multiple lynchings.
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