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The personality and nature of Gabriel are a contrast to that of Johnís. He has an imposing presence that attracts women to him. He also possesses a smooth tongue that persuades people to listen to him and act on his advice. However, behind the mask of courtesy and respectability, he hides his arrogance and insensitivity. He is autocratic at home and imposes his ideas on his children. He considers himself to be the master ruling over his family of slaves. He fails to understand the feelings of his wife and children and hurts them with his criticism. He forgets his reckless youth when he wasted his time drinking and womanizing and expects his off springs to be paragons of virtue. His children see through his hypocrisy and condemn him for it.
Gabriel is a weak character who is unable to withstand the pressures of life and overcome temptations. In his younger days, he had felt stifled at home living with a sick mother and a stern sister. Thus, he had taken to visiting bars and houses of disrepute to get away from the problems at home. Instead of relieving the burden of his mother and sister, he causes them pain by his reckless attitude. He fails to understand the feelings of his mother and the mental turmoil she would experience because of his irresponsible ways. He does feel guilty to face his mother after his secret outings but repeats his mistakes again the next day. Gabriel is too weak to control his longings and improve himself. He corrects himself only after continuously listening to his motherís fervent prayers and Deborahís soothing words.
Gabriel is basically a selfish person. He does everything to satisfy his needs but turns a blind eye to the feelings of his family members. As a youngster, he had shirked the responsibility of looking after a sick mother and helping his sister in housework. Instead, he had indulged in licentious activities and satisfied his carnal desires. He had caused pain and anguish to his mother and evoked hatred in his sister but he had not realized his mistakes. After Florence decides to go away to New York, he persuades her to stay back because he is afraid to shoulder the burden of a suffering old woman.
Shortly after his motherís demise, he marries Deborah because he needs someone to look after him and help him in his work as a preacher. Deborah remains faithful to him but he betrays her trust by getting involved with Esther. He takes advantage of Estherís infatuation for him and has a torrid affair with her. Esther believes that Gabriel is in love with her and thus, foolishly conceives his child but Gabriel had used her only to satisfy his sexual hunger. Later, he fails acknowledge Royal as his son because it would injure his reputation as a minister of the church. In the process, he deprives Royal of a fatherís love.
After Deborahís demise, he arrives in New York and falls in love with Elizabeth. In order to marry her, he promises to accept her child as his own. However, after marrying her, he goes back on his word. He treats John as a stranger and behaves with him in a curt manner. Often, he speaks to him harshly and creates fear in the boy. He likes Roy better. Gabriel is unfair, prejudiced and narrow- minded. He exploits people who love him and carelessly hurts their sentiments.
Gabriel is the prototype of a black American. In an environment filled with fear and insecurity, he gets addicted to vices in order to escape the pressures of life imposed on a Negro. Born to black parents, he develops an inferiority complex and often feels unsure himself. Like all Negroes, fear and insecurity haunt him like shadows. Fearing persecution and punishment, he keeps things to himself but feels guilty of his actions. Like many of his fellowmen, Gabriel wastes his life chasing shadows and ends up leading a life of regret.
Gabriel is the only major, negative character in the novel. He has more bad qualities than good but does very little to better himself. Having sinned more than others in the novel, he fails to be humble and repentant. He reminds others of their sins instead of confessing his mistakes and is bitter with his life. When Florence exposes his shameful past, he refuses to accept his mistakes but chides her for digging up his past. Gabriel is selfish, arrogant and hypocritical. No wonder, his children hate him and he is condemned to lead the rest of his life in doubt and fear.