The memoir’s protagonist, author, and narrator, Richard Wright is born into poverty in rural Mississippi, then shuttles between Jackson, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Memphis as a young man, and does all he can to educate himself… (read full character analysis)
Wright’s mother works hard to support Richard and his brother from a young age, but after her husband leaves the family, she must take on additional work in the kitchens of white families. Wright’s mother… (read full character analysis)
Though never named, Wright’s brother is Wright’s companion in childhood; he is then raised, partially, by Aunt Maggie in Detroit, when Wright’s mother becomes ill. Wright and his brother grow apart during their teenage years… (read full character analysis)
A stern religious practitioner, Wright’s grandmother lives in Jackson, Mississippi with Grandpa, and runs a household that includes Wright for a great many years. Granny tries desperately to get Wright to believe in God… (read full character analysis)
Granny’s youngest daughter, and Wright’s mother’s sister. Addie is also sternly religious, and runs the Christian school that Wright attends in Jackson. Addie attempts to discipline Wright early in the memoir for dropping walnut shells… (read full character analysis)
Another of Richard’s mother’s sister, Maggie early in the book lives in comfort in Arkansas with her husband Uncle Hoskins, a successful owner of a bar. This comfort is shattered when Hoskins is killed… (read full character analysis)
The husband of Maggie, who lives with her in Arkansas where he is a prosperous bar owner. For a while Richard, his mother, and his brother live with Maggie and Hoskins, and… (read full character analysis)
Another stern disciplinarian, and Grandma and Grandpa’s oldest son, Uncle Tom lives on the outskirts of Jackson and later moves into Granny’s house. Tom attempts to discipline Wright and beat him with the switch… (read full character analysis)
A kind and relatively uneducated girl, daughter of Mrs. Moss, Bess falls quickly in love with Wright, but when Wright suggests that they get to know one another before getting engaged, Bess becomes… (read full character analysis)
An optometrist from Illinois who lives in Jackson, Crane gives Wright a job in his shop, and says Wright will get a chance to learn the trade. Though Crane himself is not racist, he does… (read full character analysis)
The elevator operator in Richard’s building in Memphis (where he works at the second optometry shop), Shorty is willing to participate in racial prejudice in order to gain small amounts of change from white elevator-riders… (read full character analysis)
An African American man who works at another optometry shop across the street from Richard’s in Memphis, Harrison later agrees to box with Richard to entertain the white workers in that neighborhood. After the fight… (read full character analysis)
A kind woman who runs the orphanage in Memphis to which Richard is sent as a young child, Miss Simon takes a liking to Richard, who is so nervous he cannot perform the tasks of… (read full character analysis)
A kind woman who lives in Memphis, on Beale Street, Mrs. Moss takes in Richard as a boarder, and wishes ardently that Wright would marry her daughter, Bess.
A well-meaning and illiterate insurance salesman, Brother Mance takes on Wright as a secretary one summer, so that Wright can learn the insurance trade and help poor black families outside Jackson purchase life insurance plans.
Pease and Reynolds
Two white supremacists who work for Crane, Pease and Reynolds hound Richard, asking if he thinks he’s “white” for wanting to learn more about optometry. They eventually threaten Richard so severely, he quits his job.
A white employee at Richard’s optometry shop in Memphis, Olin initially convinces Richard and Harrison to box each other, saying he will pay each of them five dollars for the fight.
A mysterious man who becomes Maggie’s boyfriend in Arkansas sometime after Uncle Hoskins is killed, Matthews must flee with Maggie to Detroit in the middle of the night, after committing arson against a white family. Richard never learns the exact nature of, or motivation for, Matthews’ crime.
A kind man with whom Richard lives briefly, in Mississippi, Clark attempts to provide food and shelter for Richard, but Richard is too frightened by the “ghost” of a dead child in his bedroom to adjust to family life there.
Wife of Uncle Clark, Jody is also kind to Richard, and hopes to provide a comfortable home for him, however briefly.
A woman for whom Richard works, while in high school in Jackson. Richard tries to work also for Mrs. Bibbs’ husband at a sawmill, but is frightened by the physical nature of the work, and returns to work for Mrs. Bibbs.
A friend of Richard’s from high school in Jackson, Ned Greenley is notable for informing Richard, one day, that his brother, Bob, has been murdered by white men, who believe Bob visited a white prostitute.
Ned’s brother, Bob works at a hotel in Jackson, and is murdered by white men who believe that Bob slept with a white prostitute, thus violating the racial and sexual norms of the South.
A friend of Richard’s in Jackson, Griggs initially finds Richard the job at Crane’s optometry shop, and encourages Richard to behave with servility towards whites, if only to protect himself form white supremacist violence.
A kind woman who boards with Granny and works as a teacher, Ella is an avid reader of books. But after she shares books with Richard, and after Richard is later accused of lewdness by Granny, Granny forces Ella to move out of the house.
An African-American woman who works at a movie theater in Jackson, owned by a Jewish businessman. Tel works with another, unnamed man and Richard to steal from the owner. Richard uses some of this money to leave Jackson and head to Memphis.
An Irish Catholic who works at the optometry shop in Memphis, and who is less inclined toward racism against African Americans, Falk lends Richard his library card, so that Richard can check out books written by H.L. Mencken and other famous authors.