Yesterday, I focused on five notable characters that resided in NYC at some point throughout the action of the novel. Today, I have decided to focus on black women characters in five novels from the “100 Novels Collection.” Similar to the male characters, these female characters all face different challenges, but NYC seems to be a recurring setting for the action in the lives of these diverse sets of black men.
Helga Crane (Quicksand—Nella Larsen)—Helga Crane is a fictional character loosely based on Larsen’s experiences in her early life. Crane is the lovely and refined mixed-race daughter of a Danish mother and a West Indian black father. He abandoned her mother and Helga soon after the girl was born. Crane moves to Harlem, New York, where she finds a refined but often hypocritical black middle class obsessed with the “race problem.”
Jadine Childs (Tar Baby—Toni Morrison)—A beautiful, black, twenty-five-year-old orphan and one of the novel’s two protagonists. Jadine has eyes the color of mink and works as a model. She studied art history at the Sorbonne in Paris, an education paid for by Valerian Street. Men constantly pursue her, and sometimes Jadine feels confused about their attentions. Although Jadine is an independent thinker, she sometimes feels unsure about her thoughts or decisions.
Lutie Johnson (The Street—Ann Petry)—Lutie Johnson, the story’s protagonist, is a single black mother who moves away from her family to live on her own in 1940s Harlem. She lives in a building with her son, Bub, and is constantly reading and thinking about Benjamin Franklin, who she considers a hero, and whose work-ethic she tries to emulate.
Sophie (Breath, Eyes, Memory— Edwidge Danticat)—The story’s first-person narrator and its principal protagonist. Sophie is Martine’s daughter, Atie’s charge, Grandmè Ifé’s granddaughter, Joseph’s wife and Brigitte’s mother. A child of rape, Sophie is raised in Croix-des-Rosets, Haiti, by her maternal aunt Atie before being called to New York by her mother at the age of twelve. Notably, Sophie does not look like her mother, her face reflecting the unseen face of Martine’s attacker. As the child of a poor immigrant in New York, Sophie must take on the full weight of her mother’s and aunt’s dreams.
Winter Santiaga (The Coldest Winter Ever—Sister Souljah)—Winter Santiaga (aptly named because she was born during one of New York’s worst snowstorms), is the rebellious, pampered teenage daughter of a notorious drug dealer. Winter’s world is turned upside down on her 16th birthday, when her father suddenly decides to relocate his family and his growing business to Long Island, but she is determined not to sever ties with the old neighborhood.