The Yellow House Characters
The main characters in The Yellow House are the Yellow House, Sarah Broom, and Ivory Mae.
- The Yellow House is a central character of the memoir, despite being an inanimate object. It carries the collective memories of several generations of the Broom family, and its destruction is a cause for sorrow and reflection.
- Sarah Broom is the author of the memoir. Her return to New Orleans in adulthood motivates her meditations on her heritage and upbringing.
- Ivory Mae is Sarah's mother. More than any other character, Ivory Mae's dreams and desires are embodied the Yellow House, where she raised her children.
Last Updated on January 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1205
The Yellow House
The Yellow House itself becomes a character in Broom’s story because it is frequently personified and comes to be known as a member of the Broom family, considered Ivory’s “thirteenth and most unruly child.” The house is said to bear “witness to [the Brooms’] lives” and is a thoroughly active structure that interacts with, rather than simply exists alongside, the family. The house, like a human being, carries layers, as Broom spots bits of green peeking out beneath its formerly yellow exterior after the hurricane pummels its walls. These layers are significant because much of Broom’s memoir focuses on generations and the ways in which people carry their past. The house carries these generations and the passing of time within its walls.
When the house is demolished by the City of New Orleans, Broom obtains the demolition report and retitles it “Autopsy of the House,” considering the house’s demise an actual death, its ruined structure a damaged body. At a friend’s urging, Broom writes letters to the house, and these letters allow Broom to explore her relationship with the home in which she was raised.
Sarah M. Broom
Broom is the memoir’s author and narrator. She is the youngest of eleven siblings. Broom is originally named Monique, but her mother gives her a “whiter” name, Sarah, in order to help her fit in with her classmates. Broom grows up in New Orleans East, a poverty-stricken area that stands on shifting ground, where the houses literally sink into the earth. She becomes a vivacious researcher, constantly hungry to understand her family’s history. She is eager to share that history, as well as the history of New Orleans East—a neighborhood that is frequently marginalized and overshadowed by the New Orleans tourism industry, which focuses on Mardi Gras and music rather than the poverty and neglect overtaking much of the city.
Growing up, Broom is described as “Rosemary’s Baby,” alluding to the 1968 film about a demonic child, because she is more difficult than her siblings. She has massive temper tantrums in grocery stores, opens her siblings’ gifts at Christmas, and sends a miniature grandfather clock flying off the shelf and onto her mother’s head.
Broom’s teen years are not much better, as she frequently skips school and misbehaves in class. Toward the end of high school, however, she becomes a serious student and goes on to attend the University of North Texas. Broom realizes the importance of writing and starts piecing together her family history and the history of New Orleans.
Amelia, or Lolo (a name she gave herself as a teenager), is Broom’s maternal grandmother. Born on Ormond Plantation, which was the site of a major slave revolt in 1811, Amelia is strong-willed. During her childhood she lives with her older sister Edna, a Jehovah’s Witness. But “Amelia never converted,” Sarah explains: “she had the kind of mind to resist.”
Lolo is concerned with aesthetics—of clothing and food—and this is a trait she passes down to her children. “Everyone knew that Joseph, Elaine, and Ivory belonged to Lolo,” Sarah writes, “by their manner and how they dressed.”
Lolo dies exactly a month after Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans.
Ivory is Sarah Broom’s mother. Her voice is the second most prominent in the memoir, as Broom frequently implements direct quotes from Ivory, rarely choosing to paraphrase her mother’s descriptions of her past.
Ivory has twelve children from two separate marriages. She takes great pride in decorating her home, sewing her curtains, and making clothing for each of her children. Her dream is to one day have a house of her own. These dreams are dashed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as she loses most of her assets, and the agency claiming to assist her with the money, Road Home, takes decades to settle her case and award her with a small grant.
While Ivory takes pride in the decor of her home, she remains ashamed of where she lives. She tells her children, “You know this house not all that comfortable for other people.” This becomes a mantra of sorts, and it ingrains shame in Broom.
Simon is Sarah Broom’s father; he dies six months after her birth. Simon is nineteen years Ivory’s senior, and his age is partly what draws Ivory to him. He is described as always working, always “urgently need[ing] to be somewhere.” Broom ruminates on Simon’s absence from her life, calling him “the raggedy falling-down thing of my imagination.” In adulthood, she attempts to locate video footage of her father, wanting to see him in action. She thinks she finds him in a parade video stored in the City of New Orleans archives, but when she brings the stills to her mother, Broom is informed that she has not yet found her father.
Sarah M. Broom’s Siblings
Sarah Broom is the youngest of eleven siblings, the oldest of whom is thirty years her senior. They are, from oldest to youngest, Simon Jr., Deborah, Valeria, Eddie, Michael, Darryl, Carl, Karen, Troy, Byron, and Lynette. Broom’s siblings demonstrate varying experiences of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—each sibling responds differently to the wreckage, as Michael and Carl decide to stay behind, and the others relocate to California and Texas for safety. Because the age difference is so great between Sarah and some of her siblings, we only come to understand a few of them intimately. Michael and Carl assist Broom with all her major life changes, driving her to college and moving heavy boxes into her apartment in the French Quarter. Lynette, only five years her senior, shares a bedroom with Broom as a child and in adulthood influences her decision to move to New York. Darryl, the self-proclaimed “black sheep of the family” who was conceived in an extramarital affair, suffers from drug addiction.
Joseph and Elaine Gant
Joseph and Elaine are Ivory’s older brother and sister, respectively. Joseph and Elaine are raised to be extremely neat and concerned with aesthetics. Joseph takes great pride in his clothing and is “the only boy at . . . eighth-grade graduation who wore a tailer-made suit.” Elaine makes her own clothes and is considered a tomboy as a child, “playing marbles, climbing trees.” “She could fight the boys, too,” Broom explains, “defending her baby sister who she thought ‘let people walk all over her.’ ”
Lionel is the father of Lolo’s children; he “was present in name alone.” Lionel is descended from free people of color and afforded privileges most black people in the South at the time do not have, “access to the kinds of work held only by white people.” To bear the name “Soule” is a huge advantage for Lolo’s children, as it affords them opportunities they would not have access to under the name “Gant,” Lolo’s maiden name.
Webb is described as a class clown who impregnates and subsequently marries Ivory while the two are still in high school. He is hit by a car and dies while away in Texas training for the army, and it is suspected that his death was racially motivated.