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We meet Roberta at the beginning of the story as a young girl without her mother at a state home for children. It is unknown if she has black or white skin, but it is known that her best friend she met there, Twyla, is the opposite race of her. The two do not think about race at such a young age, but as Roberta continues to meet Twyla throughout the story as they age, they do.
Married to an IBM executive, Roberta doesn't have to worry at all about money. She does, however, have to worry about friendship. One day, Twyla sees Roberta picketing against forced integration. Twyla seems upset, but Roberta doesn't really care, and continues her protest. It isn't until years after that encounter that the two meet at a coffee shop and end, as far as the reader can tell, their friendship on an unresolved note.
Twyla is a member of the middle class, married to a fire-fighter. Meeting Roberta when she was just a little girl at a state home for children, the two become best friends because of their similar circumstances. However, Roberta is the opposite race from Twyla, and this gets in the way of their friendship as they grow older. For example, Twyla sees Roberta picketing forced integration one day and steps out of her car to try to reason with her. Roberta lashes back, saying that when Twyla was little, she kicked the black kitchen attendant at the home, Maggie, when she was on the floor. For the first time, Twyla realizes that Maggie could in fact have been black, instead of sand-colored.
Maggie was the cook at the state's home for children, and was much loved by the two girls, Roberta and Twyla. Described by Twyla as having sandy-colored skin and legs shaped like parenthesis, she cannot speak, but this does not get in the way of the two forming a relationship with her. Later, when Maggie is not present, the two look back on her and how they might have actually been abusing her.
Mary is the mother of Twyla, and we meet her on a Sunday in church. Though a static character, what we remember about her is that she offered a hand to Roberta's mother as a sign of friendship, but her hand was declined, only because the two are of opposite race.
Her name not specifically given, Roberta's mother is, obviously, the mother of Roberta. We meet her on Sunday when she, her daugher, Twyla, and her mother are at church. She refuses to shake hands with Mary, Twyla's mother, just because they are of opposite race. Remaining a static character, Roberta's mother helps show that there is no reason to decline a friend just because of what they look like, and how selfish some people are for embarrassing their children this way for no real reason.
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