Go Tell It on the Mountain: Character Profiles

Deborah:  Deborah is the first wife of Gabriel. As a teenager, years before marrying Gabriel, she is raped by a gang of white men and is, thereafter, unable to have children. Initially, she is a friend of Florence and helps to care for Florence and Gabriels mother. She becomes a spiritual supporter of Gabriel and they eventually marry. She is loyal and steadfast and remarkably forgiving; for example, even though she knows of Gabriels adulterous affair with Esther and the son they conceived (Royal), she does not mention it until after Royal dies. After her death, Gabriel moves to New York and meets and marries Elizabeth.
Elisha:  Elisha is the 17-year-old nephew of the pastor and is an instructor at the Sunday school. John admires Elisha to the point of appearing to be infatuated with him. Elisha thinks of John as a younger brother.
Ella Mae:  Ella Mae is friends with Elisha. Both are warned publicly in church to avoid sinful behaviour.
Esther:  Esther has sexual relations with Gabriel whilst he is still married to Deborah. She is described as not being pious in any way and free from the fear of sin. Their nine-day affair results in pregnancy and Esther dies after giving birth to their son Royal.
Florence:  Florence is the older sister of Gabriel. She leaves the South and her mother behind to find a new life in 1900, aged 26. As children, Gabriel is favoured by their mother and is given the chance of an education. The justification is that he is a boy. With the descriptions of Florences unfair treatment, it is possible to see the novel challenging sex discrimination. In the present narrative strand, she is fatally ill and attempts to come to terms with the religion of her upbringing. She also opposes her brothers hypocrisy and cruelty and promises to reveal to Elizabeth the secret of his first son.
Frank:  Frank was the husband of Florence for ten years. He is characterized as hedonistic and thoughtless of the future. After separating from Florence, he lives with another woman. He is killed in the First World War.
Elizabeth Grimes:  Elizabeth is Johns mother and second wife of Gabriel. Part Two of the novel exposes her background. After the death of her mother, as an eight-year-old child, she is separated from the father she loves and is raised by a strict aunt. She leaves the South and to come to New York to be with her boyfriend Richard (who is Johns biological father). After Richards suicide, John is born illegitimately. Elizabeths meeting with Gabriel comes about through his sister Florence. This was when both women work as evening cleaners on Wall Street and Gabriel promises to raise him as his own son.
Gabriel Grimes:  Gabriel is the step-father of John. As the novel progresses, it is made clear that Gabriel is not Johns biological father as the reader and John have presumed. He is defined by his hypocrisy and bitterness. This is evident in the details that he is a preacher, but is jealous of his step-son, is violent to his wife and children and has had an adulterous relationship whilst married to Deborah.
John Grimes:  As the central protagonist of a semi-autobiographical novel, John loosely represents Baldwin. The present day events are focussed over the time frame of two days: the day of his 14th birthday and the morning after. John is characterized sympathetically as he is hard-working, thoughtful and a good student. He cleans the church on a Saturday evening and performs the chores at home that have been expected of him. The antagonism he feels towards his step-father Gabriel is the main focus of this novel. This fraught relationship has an impact on Johns commitment to his religion. At the end of the novel, John experiences a spiritual awakening.
Rachel:  Referred to by name only once, she is Gabriel and Florences mother. She was born into slavery and told her children of the civil war and the emancipation of slaves. Through this character, an overt connection is made between the Hebrew slaves of the Old Testament and the African-American slaves who prayed for deliverance.
Roy Grimes:  Roy is Johns younger half-brother. His full name is Royal, as is his dead, older half-brother. Compared to John, Roy has more freedom and less is expected of him. He is rebellious and, like John, is ignorant of Johns illegitimacy and knows nothing of the first Royal. Roys wildness is easily comparable with Gabriel and Royal when they were growing up.
Richard:  Richard is Johns biological father. He commits suicide before Johns birth and is unaware of Elizabeths pregnancy. This suicide comes immediately after his release from prison where he was being held on a false charge of holding up a white mans store. With Richards characterization it is possible to see a strong criticism of the racism embedded in the justice system and in the wider society that has tolerated such prejudices.
Royal:  Royal is Gabriels first son and Esther is his mother. He is killed in a knife fight in Chicago.
Ruth:  Johns baby sister.
Sarah:  Johns younger sister.
The Saints (Praying Mother Washington, Sister Price and Sister McCandless) :  These are the saved members of the church John attends, the Temple of the Fire Baptized. John becomes a saint at the end of the novel after experiencing his spiritual awakening.