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Annabelle is Herman's sister and is in her thirties. She is evidently very tall and is happy to have finally found a man who is taller than she. She wants to marry Walter, but he is a common sailor, not an officer, and so not socially acceptable as a husband according to her mother. Annabelle wants Herman to break off from Julia and marry a white woman who can help care for their mother; she sees this as the only way she will ever be freed from her mother and able to marry Walter. Because she is German, Annabelle has been discriminated against and so places a sign in a window of her home proclaiming that her family is American. Annabelle is a war-time volunteer at the Naval hospital, but when Herman falls sick she is of little help; like her mother, she is also opposed to calling a doctor and wants to wait for the protection of darkness before moving Herman out of the black neighborhood.

Julia Augustine
Julia is a thirty-five year old black seamstress with an eighth grade education. She is lonely, isolated, and ashamed that she is not respectably married. She is in love with Herman even though he has no money and is uneducated. She is a social outcast, not really a member of her own black race and certainly not welcomed by whites. She is showing the strain often years of social disapproval and isolation. She tries to free Mattie by giving her the tickets and the wedding band. For Julia, all white people Eire the enemy except for Herman.

Bell man
Bell man is a thirty year old white peddler who extends credit to his black female customers, and is owed money by most women in the neighborhood. He asks Julia for sex and offers to give her stockings in return.

See Thelma

Lula Green
Like Julia and Mattie, Lula has also suffered economically and personally. Her husband chased women, abused her, and then died. Her young son died when he wandered in front of a train and was struck. Lula adopted Nelson from an orphanage after these deaths; she now channels all of her energy into caring for her adopted son and worries about him excessively. She tries to shelter Nelson from anyone she thinks might do him harm, even apologizing to bell man to protect her son from the peddler's anger. Lula makes paper flowers to earn extra money.

Nelson Green
Nelson is the adopted adult son of Lula. He is home on leave from the army and due to report back in a couple of days. He is filled with bravado but is really scared and intimidated. He recognizes that, as a black man, he has no real future. Should he survive his time at war, he will return to the same lack of opportunity, the same segregation, and the same hostility he has left; he will not even allow himself to hope that he might come back to something different. Nelson is so cowed by the system and his environment that even when a pail of dirty water is dumped on his head he reacts with apologies and is unable to assert himself. Nelson proposes to the woman he is courting, but she declines his proposal because, as she tells him, he has nothing to offer her.

Herman is a forty year old uneducated man, who is slightly graying. He is a poor but hardworking baker, is genuinely compassionate, and is trapped in South Carolina by the loan he received from his mother when he purchased...

(This entire section contains 1155 words.)

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the bakery. Herman seems to be the only character who does not see people in terms of race; he treats Julia and her black neighbors the same as he would treat any person of any color. Herman is caught between his mother's disapproval of Julia and his love for Julia. In one of the play's climactic scenes both women engage in a shouting match as Herman is dying from influenza.

Fannie Johnson
Fannie is Julia's landlady. Fannie wants to ''represent her race in an approved manner.'' She is a nosy woman, full of pride, and pretends to belong to a better social class as a property owner. She fears a quarantine, social condemnation, and legal difficulties if a doctor is called for Herman. Fannie ingratiates herself to Herman's mother because each sees the other for she is, namely a pretentious social climber and hypocrite. Fannie propositions Nelson to live with her as a ''business manager."

Mattie is a very poor black woman with all the economic problems of a single mother. Her common-law husband, October, is away at sea in the merchant marines. She has a great deal of dignity and struggles to earn extra money making candy and babysitting a white child, Princess. She was deserted by her first husband who beat her, but she cannot divorce him because divorce is not legal in South Carolina. She has been with October for eleven years and they have a daughter. When Mattie tries to claim her husband's merchant marine benefits, she is told their marriage is not valid. Julia frees Mattie when she gives her the two tickets to New York and her wedding band.

Princess is the eight year old white child who Mattie babysits, and who serves as a playmate for Teeta.

Teeta is Mattie's eight year old daughter. As the play opens, Teeta is weeping because she has lost a quarter. Her desperate search for the lost money illustrates how scarce cash is for Mattie and reveals the poverty of her life.

Herman's mother is a fifty-seven year old white woman who is bitter, miserable, and without love. She calls herself Thelma, but her real name is Frieda, a German name that she conceals out of fear of discrimination. Frieda is intolerant and would rather her son Herman die then be with Julia. Herman's job as a baker is a source of embarrassment for his mother as is Annabelle's romance with a common sailor; yet, Frieda is a sharecropper's daughter who pretends to belong to a higher social class. She reveals that she was not happy being married to a common man and that five of the seven children she bore were stillborn. She has loaned Herman $3,000 to buy his bakery, and this unpaid debt keeps him in South Carolina. Frieda believes in a racist ideology and is a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. She so hates the black woman her son loves and is so repulsed by their relationship that she refuses to call a doctor for him. As she waits for the cover of darkness to move him from Julia's house, Frieda accuses Julia of stealing money from Herman's wallet. The women's shouting escalates into a horrific verbal battle of racial insults so intense that both Julia and Frieda seem to forget Herman's illness.




Critical Essays