50 pages 1 hour read

Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Character Analysis

Ray Carney

Ray is the protagonist of Harlem Shuffle and the readers’ entry point into the world of Harlem in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As an African American man from a poor background, Ray has faced many challenges in his life. He has dealt with poverty and racism every day; his force of will and his determination have allowed him to make a name for himself as a furniture salesman. Ray’s desire to carve out a reputation as a respectable local businessman partly stems from his father’s influence. Mike Carney was a notorious criminal in Harlem, and Ray does not want his name to be associated with his father’s crimes. Instead, he builds himself a small empire of respectability, signaled by his name above the door of the furniture store. Ray’s rise from a poor background to a leading figure in the community is a quest to improve the reputation of his family, as Ray wants to pass down to his children what his father could not pass down to him.

While Ray’s public persona is that of an upstanding businessman and a respectable member of the local community, he engages in the criminal underworld.

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