Character Analysis Brother Tod Clifton


Tod Clifton (whose first name in German means "dead") is the handsome, articulate young brother assigned as Harlem's Youth Leader. Although the narrator first considers him a competitor, he soon realizes that Tod is not interested in political power; he sincerely wants to help the youth of Harlem break out of their limited reality and realize their unlimited potential. Because Tod is one of the most charismatic characters in the novel, it is difficult to reconcile his act of selling Sambo dolls and his violent death with his true character.

Tod Clifton, the sensitive, idealistic young man with his black skin and "Afro-Anglo-Saxon" features, may be portrayed as the man on a cliff who, devastated by the violence and hatred that surround him, is finally pushed over the edge and, in effect, commits suicide by striking the white policeman who arrests him for selling the dolls without a permit.

Tod Clifton's emotional reaction to Ras's speech concerning the black man's place in white America, illustrates that he is a highly impressionable young man. Although he wants to dismiss Ras as a fanatic rabble-rouser, Tod knows that Ras speaks the truth, which causes him to question his effectiveness with his youth group. When Ras accuses him of selling his people, he realizes that he has sold out to the Brotherhood. Unable to reconcile his idealistic vision with his reality and unwilling to compromise his ideals, he gives up, choosing death rather than life without hope, respect, or dignity. Similarly, while Ras wants to dismiss Tod as an opportunist who has sold out to the system, he recognizes him as a black prince and spares his life.