James Baldwin is the author of the book, and he narrates each essay from his own first-person perspective. Baldwin was born in 1924 to a large, poor family in Harlem, and his strained relationship with… (read full character analysis)
Baldwin’s father, who is never named in the book, is a preacher. Born in New Orleans, he is unsure of his birth date but knows that his mother was alive during slavery. He is a… (read full character analysis)
David is one of Baldwin’s nine younger siblings. He sings in a quartet and is invited to perform on a tour hosted by the Progressive Party in Atlanta, which Baldwin details in the essay “Journey… (read full character analysis)
Emma Berdis Jones (Baldwin’s Mother)
Baldwin’s mother is also not named in the book. Little information is given about her, although it is clear that Baldwin has an easier relationship with her than with his father. She encourages Baldwin’s writing and interacts with visitors to the household because her husband is too short-tempered.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was a white writer and abolitionist. She was born in Connecticut in 1811 and was the author of the 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which Baldwin critiques in the essay entitled “Everybody’s Protest Novel.”
Richard Wright was an African-American author born in Mississippi in 1908. Known as one of the most important (and controversial) black writers of the 20th century, he was the author of Native Son, which Baldwin critiques in “Many Thousands Gone.”
Pearl Bailey was an African-American actress and singer. She played the character of Frankie, a “floozie,” in the 1954 film Carmen Jones. In his essay on the film, Baldwin praises her performance.
Dorothy Dandridge was an African-American actress who played the lead role in Carmen Jones, a performance for which she became the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar.
Harry Belafonte is an African-American singer and actor who played the male lead in Carmen Jones.
Mr. Clarence Warde
Mr. Clarence Warde is a black merchant seaman who helps arrange the quartet’s tour of Atlanta. He is rather hapless and fails to resolve the many problems that occur during the tour.
Mrs. Price is an older white woman who works for the Progressive Party. She treats the quartet rudely during their time in Atlanta, and seems to have a patronizing attitude toward black people.
Baldwin’s teacher is a young white woman who takes an interest in Baldwin and offers to take him to the theatre after reading one of his plays. She also supports Baldwin’s family after his father loses his job.
Baldwin’s aunt is a severe woman who was very beautiful in her youth. She criticizes Baldwin and argues fiercely with Baldwin’s father, who was her younger brother. Baldwin reflects that she probably had the most genuine relationship with his father of anyone in the family.
American Patent Attorney
The patent attorney is Baldwin’s former employer. Baldwin manages to inform the attorney when he is imprisoned, and the attorney assists in getting him released.