The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Cynara is represented through her first-person narration as an intelligent, perceptive person. She assesses the actions and motives of both her family and their white counterparts, struggles to come to terms with her own feelings of rejection, and seeks to define her place in the world. Her entries explain her frustration. She accounts for her resentment of Other since childhood. Other enjoyed the benefits of the maternal relationship with Cynara’s own mother that Cynara only longed for. Cynara’s sense that her mother rejected her, her early separation from family, and her subsequent humiliation on the auction block contribute to her insecurity and anger. She expresses these feelings partly in her need to exert her superiority over Other. She is proud that she is R.’s preferred love and takes responsibility for his marriage to Other, revealing that she motivated R. to notice Other and then pursue marriage, thinking correctly that this marriage would eventually secure him to Cynara, knowing that she was the one able to provide the love and comfort for which he longed.

Established in Charleston in a house provided by R., Cynara is summoned to her mother’s deathbed. While this trip to say good-bye initially recalls to Cynara the anger and hurt of her mother’s apparent rejection, she discovers while there a letter to her from her mother professing her love. This letter resolves one of Cynara’s major issues. Her other concern is finding her place in the world. R. marries her and even offers her a chance to live in Europe, where she could live as a white person, rather than live with him on the estate he inherits from Other. At one time, Cynara would have welcomed this opportunity. Now, though, she falls in loves with a black congressman. She chooses to become his mistress, bearing for him and his wife the child his wife cannot have. In surrogate motherhood, Cynara exerts pride of self and finds fulfillment.