The novel is set in the South and the North of the United States of America. The first part of the novel, as the title
"Southern Nights" suggests, is set in the American South in Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi. Richard’s
early childhood is spent in Memphis. Here he lives in "a one-story brick tenement." His father works as a "night porter in
a Beale Street drugstore." Their secure life however experiences tremors, when his father leaves home to live with another
At the age of seventeen, Richard returns back to Memphis "on a cold November Sunday morning, in 1925." He now lives
in a Beale street house as a paying guest and works in an Optical company. The first time Richard visits Jackson, it is at
the age of seven.
On their way to Arkansas, they stop here to meet Granny. In comparison to his dingy apartment in Memphis, the house
here was like a mansion. After their mother’s illness, they return back to Jackson. Richard is now an adolescent and he
finds the atmosphere in the house stifling. A part of his childhood and adolescence is spent in West Helena with Aunt
Maggie. As a child, he finds the surroundings of the place conducive.
, Illinois is the setting of the second part of
the novel and his adult life.
When he arrives at the place "Chicago seemed an unreal city whose mythical houses were built of slabs of black coal
wreathed in palls of gray smoke, houses whose foundation were sinking slowly into the dark prairie." Chicago thus tests
the endurance of Richard and makes him a force to reckon with.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Richard is the only major character in the book as it his autobiography, his life that, the book traces. He is intelligent,
talented, self-willed and sensitive. He struggles hard in life in order to achieve his goal. Through his writings, he desires to
arouse the world against injustice.
-Richard’s mother who is a positive influence in his life. She is the only one in the novel who understands
his feelings and gives him emotional support. She is a strong-willed, righteous and God-fearing woman. After her
husband deserts her, she works as a cook to support her family. However, fate plays a cruel joke on her and she becomes a
victim of paralysis.
-Richard’s grandmother, she is a dominating old lady. Intensely religious, she imposes rigid discipline on
every one in the house. She forces Richard to attend church services and recite prayers regularly. In her enthusiasm to
create a religious atmosphere at home, she stifles the individuality of Richard.
-Richard’s aunt, she lives in Arkansas before her husband’s demise. Along with Richard’s mother, she
works as a cook in the homes of white people to support herself. Later, she goes away to Detroit with a professor. She is
fond of Richard and accompanies him to Chicago later in life.