Blues for Mister Charlie Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1964, at the ANTA-Washington Square Theatre, New York City

First published: 1964

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Protest

Time of work: The 1960’s

Locale: The American South

Characters DiscussedMeridian Henry

Meridian Blues for Mister CharlieHenry, a minister in a small Southern town. Henry, a civil rights activist, had urged his fellow African Americans to adopt a nonviolent posture in response to threats and violence committed against them by whites resisting changes in the status quo. He had placed his faith in God and a liberal white friend to influence others and effect social change. The racially motivated killing of his son causes Meridian to reevaluate his nonaggressive strategy for civil rights. He begins to question God’s allowance of the suffering of African Americans and has doubts concerning his white friend’s willingness to eliminate the privileged position of whites.

Richard Henry

Richard Henry, Meridian’s murdered son. Seen in flashback sequences, he is a musician whose attempt to find fame in New York ended bitterly with his incarceration for heroin addiction. In his twenties, he returned to his hometown still resentful of his father’s inaction concerning the suspicious death of Richard’s mother. To whites, Richard is abrasive, threatening, and too boastful of his sexual prowess, especially in regard to white women. To blacks, he is a proud, bold young man who refuses to suffer quietly the indignities experienced by African Americans in a racist society.

Lyle Britten

Lyle Britten, a store owner suspected of murdering Richard. He is a lower-class, uneducated white man who speaks crudely. A family man, he has aspirations of expanding his business so that he can better provide the means to care for and educate his infant son. Although he admires his white wife and is proud to be a racist, he prefers sex with black women. Lyle feels threatened by the unwillingness of Richard to acquiesce to the town’s racial social order.

Josephine

Josephine (Jo) Gladys Britten, Lyle’s wife. Better educated than her husband, she married Lyle out of love and a desire not to end life having never married. She suspects her husband of infidelity and knows that even before Richard’s murder, Lyle had killed a black man (the husband of his mistress). Still, she staunchly defends her husband’s virtue and lies about the events leading up to Richard’s murder.

Parnell James

Parnell James, the editor of an unpopular town newspaper. Reared in a wealthy household, he is an iconoclastic middle-aged white man. He labels himself as a liberal but enjoys his privileged racial status. He cannot reconcile his private feelings about the exotic nature of African Americans with his public statements claiming no difference between the races. Caught between his friendships with Meridian and Lyle, Parnell claims that he desires the conviction of Richard’s murderer. He appears unwilling to divulge evidence, however, that would cast doubt on Lyle’s innocence in the crime.

Juanita

Juanita, a college student and civil rights activist. A black woman of strong convictions, she aspires to be a lawyer and use the judicial system as a means to achieve racial equality. Highly attractive, she is desired by Meridian and Parnell but chooses to become Richard’s lover.

Joel Davis

Joel Davis, called Papa D., a black owner of a juke joint whom black people consider to be an Uncle Tom. His disclosure that Lyle was the last person to see Richard alive forces the authorities to arrest the white man on suspicion of murder.

Lorenzo

Lorenzo,

Pete

Pete,

Ken

Ken, and

Arthur

Arthur, black college students and civil rights activists. They distrust the judicial system and have little hope for the conviction of Richard’s murderer.

Hazel

Hazel,

Lillian

Lillian,

Susan

Susan,

Ralph

Ralph,

Ellis

Ellis,

the Reverend Phelps

the Reverend Phelps, and

George

George, friends of Lyle, all bigoted and narrow-minded white townspeople. They are adamantly opposed to social change, especially that which promotes racial equality.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. James Baldwin. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2006. Part of the Bloom’s Biocritiques series, this collection comprises four extended biographical essays on the author’s accomplishments. Bloom also edited a 2007 volume with the same title featuring critical essays on specific Baldwin works and genres.Hernton, Calvin C. “A Fiery Baptism.” In James Baldwin. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974. Comments on the negative reaction of whites and the positive reaction of African Americans to the performance of the play. Argues that Blues for Mister Charlie forces whites to face themselves squarely and to confront their fears and guilt. Asserts that the play severed “the romantic involvement between James Baldwin and white America.”Jones, Mary E. James Baldwin. Atlanta, Ga.: Atlanta University, 1971. Short literary biography with an extensive and valuable bibliography of works by and on Baldwin. The bibliography includes several pieces of criticism and interpretation of Blues for Mister Charlie.Leeming, David. James Baldwin: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1994. This major biography of Baldwin devotes an entire chapter to Blues for Mister Charlie.Margolies, Edward. “The Negro Church: James Baldwin and the Christian Vision.” In Native Sons. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1968. Argues that the spirit of evangelism from the black church is everywhere in Baldwin’s works. Margolies sees Blues for Mister Charlie as a play in which Baldwin’s “apocalypse” is translated “into concrete social terms.”Meserve, Walter. “James Baldwin’s ’Agony Way.’” In The Black American Writer. Vol. 2. Compiled by C. W. E. Bigsby. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1969. Argues that Baldwin is not a very accomplished dramatist, but that he does have a message that he manages to convey effectively. Notes that there is not much action and that the play’s emphasis is on rhetoric and dialogue.Sharma, Asha. James Baldwin: Protest and Beyond. New Delhi, India: Rajat, 2005. Extended study of the role of protest in Baldwin’s work and the role of his work in African American protest fiction.Sternlicht, Sanford. A Reader’s Guide to Modern American Drama. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2002. Overview of the history of modern drama in the United States, including a section on Baldwin placing his work in the context of theatrical history.Weatherby, W. J. James Baldwin: Artist on Fire. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1989. The standard biography of Baldwin, examining his life from his boyhood to his death. Delves into his early sexual ambivalence. Traces his career as an artist with an examination of the circumstances surrounding all of his publications, detailing both his successes and his disappointments.
Categories: Characters