Kim­berly Juanita Brown, assis­tant pro­fessor of Eng­lish, dis­cusses five char­ac­ters who make their novels great works of art.

Sula Peace. In “Sula,” by Toni Mor­rison. In one of my favorite pas­sages, Sula — both a pro­tag­o­nist and an antag­o­nist — drifts back home after having been away for more than a decade. Vis­iting her child­hood friend Nel, Sula casu­ally laments her inability to find a suitor. “They still here. You the one went off,” Nel tells her, to which Sula dreamily responds, “Didn’t I though?”  Steam truck or dove feather, Sula is a self-​​constructed man­i­fes­ta­tion of her own desires.

Baby Kochamma. In “The God of Small Things,” by Arund­hati Roy. Baby Kochamma is one of the novel’s prin­cipal vil­lains, a woman bereft of love. She is selfish and manip­u­la­tive, angry and afraid, caste con­scious and locked in time. Roy gives us a look at how loss affects a family through this char­acter, who plays pup­peteer with everyone around her, and yet is both tan­gen­tial to the family and for­gotten in the narrative.

Jason Compson. In “The Sound and the Fury,” by William Faulkner. Faulkner once said that Jason is the only member of the Compson family who is not insane. This is, of course, not entirely true. Jason’s mental dis­order has a very rigid and orderly cadence to it. Every­thing Jason says about others is true of him­self, and, like Satan in “Par­adise Lost,” he gets all the best lines.

Jule­tane. In “Jule­tane,” by Myriam Warner-​​Vieyra. Now out of print, “Jule­tane” is a sump­tuous novella span­ning three coun­tries through one short life. Moving from Paris to Africa, Jule­tane quickly dis­covers that she is not her husband’s only wife, and every­thing she thought he rep­re­sented is a lie. Helene, a social worker, reads Juletane’s note­book after her death, and real­izes — as we do — that she is unforgettable.

Silla Boyce. In “Brown Girl, Brown­stones,” by Paule Mar­shall. Ambi­tious, artful and extremely hard-​​working, Silla cares about only one thing: buying a house. Although daughter Selina resists Silla’s holding fast to rigid Bar­ba­dian values, ulti­mately Selina is forced to rec­on­cile with Silla’s ways — rec­og­nizing them as her own ways as well.