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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
SETTING The setting is a Southern town with a population around thirty thousand in the 1930s. The town’s economy is based largely on cotton mills, one factory, and some gins and sawmills. The time is the Great Depression, and most people are quite poor.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
John Singer - mute man who becomes a repository of the desire of several characters. He loves Spiros Antonapoulos more than any one else, but is separated from him because of Spiros’ mental illness. When Spiros dies, John Singer kills himself.
Bartholomew "Biff" Brannon - owner of the New York Cafe in the small Southern town of the novel’s setting. He is the spectator of the novel, watching as other characters develop a strong attachment to John Singer. He develops a crush on the young girl, but never acts on it.
Jake Blount - Biff Brannon thinks of him as "the sort of fellow that kids laughed at and dogs wanted to bite." He is a self-taught Marxist who uses the methods of revival tent meetings to sell the word of Marx. He is only calm when he is with Singer.
Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland - an African-American doctor who is educated in the philosophy of social sciences. He combines a knowledge of Marxism with a knowledge of the history of the oppression of African Americans. He wants to find fellow African Americans who will help him organize his people to fight oppression, but never finds anyone. He also finds John Singer to be the all-knowing and all-understanding listener he has always longed for.