Grant Wiggins is the narrator of the novel. He was born in the plantation just outside of Bayonne, Louisiana. He lived there until he went away to college, and when he went back home, he was detached from the people in the town because of his education and different religious beliefs. He is easily angered and often very selfish. This is seen in the way that he acts towards Vivian. He consistently does not give her the attention or respect that she deserves. He refers to her children as simply, “the babies,” and only cares about the names of his and Vivian’s future children. Grant goes from shallow and selfish at the beginning of the story, to caring and loving at the end.
Jefferson is an honest, young black man with below-average intelligence. After being called a hog by his lawyer, he loses all self-respect, and feels as if he is really no better than a hog. He becomes sullen and angry after being sentenced to death. The visits that Grant pays Jefferson eventually revive him out of his emotional slumber, and he begins to see himself as a human being again. Ultimately, he serves as Grants teacher, as he shows him how to be loyal and how to love.
Tante Lou is Grant’s extremely religious and aunt. She is very persistent, and does not stop begging Henri Pichot until he agrees to talk to the sheriff about her and Grant visiting Jefferson. Tante Lou’s faith allows her to believe that Jefferson will die as a man. Without this faith, Grant, at first, does not believe in Jefferson. Despite her social status because of her skin, she and Miss Emma dress with dignity, and demand respect from all who will give it to them.
Miss Emma is Jefferson’s godmother. She loves her godson Jefferson, and shows this through all of the tings she goes through for him. She is very religious, and has great faith in God. After hearing Jefferson called a hog, she becomes obsessed that he die “like a man.” She visits him several times in prison, but does not go as much as Grant. Although she wants Jefferson to die as a man, she does not seem to try to make him a man, as Grant does.
Vivian is Grant’s beautiful, passionate, and smart girlfriend. She teaches at a black Catholic school in Bayonne. During the book she is married, but separated from her husband, so her relationship with Grant is kept a secret. She has two small children with her husband. Vivian loves Grant but often distrusts him because of his lack of loyalty to his people and hometown.
Sheriff Sam Guidry is both a white supremacist and a decent man. At the beginning of the novel he is ignorant and extremely racist towards Grant and Jefferson. He views black people as unintelligent, but when changes start to show in both Jefferson and Grant, he learns otherwise. By the end of the novel, he is nice to Jefferson, and allows more visiting sessions for longer amounts of time. He starts to show signs of respect and compassion to Jefferson.
The book takes place in the 1940s...