Doctor Copeland embodies the bitter spectacle of the educated African-American in the South. Like Jake Blount, the doctor is warped by his long years of effort to do his part to change certain existing conditions. Though he has practiced medicine among the black community for decades, he has always felt that his primary work is teaching his people. His ideas are laboriously thought out and inflexible—they do not bend to fit his time and place.
"Hamilton, Karl Marx, William, and Portia would be afraid of him and look at their mother—and sometimes when he realized this the black feeling would conquer him and he knew not what he did." (p. 82)
Parallel to Doctor Copeland's ambition for his race is his love for his family. But because of his inflexibility, his relationships with his four children are a complete and utter failure. His temperament is partly responsibly for this as well. All of his life, Doctor Copeland has gone against the grain of his own racial nature. At home, when he felt his children escaping from his influence, he was subject to wild and sudden outbreaks of rage. This lack of control split him from his wife and family.
"[Singer] had talked to him as no other white man and had trusted him. Always he would return to in his thoughts to this white man who was not insolent or scornful but who was just." (p. 333)
To Doctor Copeland, Singer seems to be the embodiment of the control and asceticism of a certain type of white man. All his life, Dr. Copeland has suffered because of the slights and humiliations from the white race. Singer's politeness and consideration make the doctor feel pitiably grateful. He is always careful to keep his "dignity" with the mute, but Singer's friendship becomes of great importance to him.
"Sometimes he thought that he had talked so much in the years before to his children and they had understood so little that now there was nothing at all to say." (p. 83)
Doctor Copeland realizes his own shortcomings in many senses. He knows, fully and bitterly, that his life's work has been a failure. Although he is respected to the point of awe by most of the people of color in town, his teachings have been too foreign to their natures to have any palpable effect—even with his own children. This ineffectuality weighs heavily on the doctor, and in the end even his relationship with Singer can't fix it.
Mick | Jake | Biff