The most important characters in the short story “Saturday Afternoon” by Erskine Caldwell are Tom Denny, Jim Baxter, Will Maxie and the collective character of the white men who kill Will Maxie. Most of the characters illustrate attitudes to racism and violence, and none of them develops as a result of the plot.
Tom Denny is one of the main characters in the short story, whose perspective we assume the narrator relies on to render the events. He is a flat character as he does not change throughout the story.
His outer characterization reveals that he owns the only butcher’s shop in town, together with Jim Baxter. At the shop, he is the one who does the butcher’s job. Also, he owns a gun and chews tobacco. He is also married to a woman who often gets “the chills and fever”. However, almost nothing is said about his physical traits.
Also, he is chosen to be the first one to shoot Will Maxie.
Tom’s inner characterization is constructed throughout the story based on his motives, attitude, and actions.
Initially, he comes across as a rather sloppy person because he does not concern himself with the improper conditions he keeps the meat in. Furthermore, he even sleeps and spits on it:
The tobacco juice splattered on the floor midway between the meat block and cigar box. What little of it dripped on the piece of rump steak did not really matter: most people cleaned their meat before they cooked and ate it...
As the action develops and his partner wakes him up from his nap, Tom comes across as racist, calling Will Maxie a “nigger” and appearing excited by the prospect of ‘getting him’ (catching and killing him).
During the events in the creek and based on Tom’s attitude, we realize that he is aware that Will is “a pretty smart Negro”, yet probably this is precisely what makes him angry and envious with Will, just like everybody else in town: “But nobody liked Will. He made too much money by taking out the grass before laying by his cotton and corn. He made more money than ...