In the highly popular Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit", an important character Jolene is portrayed as black. Is she such in the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, or is there even such a character?

2 Answers 2


Clearly, the answer is yes--that is, she is black in the novel--from my reading of the last paragraph in SlateReview . It reads (note phrase "Black orphan" near the end--and repeated "n-word" usage):

The most striking change the show makes to the characterization of Beth’s friend Jolene has to do with the girls’ time in the orphanage together. In Tevis’ novel, when Jolene is 13 and Beth is nine, Jolene comes to Beth’s bed in the middle of the night and tries to get Beth to engage in mutual masturbation. When Beth, “terrified” by the situation, says no, Jolene goes away, but she’s angry about it. For a while, the two are enemies; when Jolene calls Beth “cracker” in the hallway, she means it not as a term of endearment, but a curse. Beth, for her part, responds by hissing the n-word. A Black orphan who tries to seduce her younger friend? A white heroine who uses the n-word as a weapon? None of this is in the show, surely too fraught for the escapist fantasy Netflix has created.

  • 1
    A better source to cite would be a quote from the novel itself (primary source), rather than a third-party review.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 7, 2020 at 19:58
  • Well, of course, you're right Rand al'Thor. But I don't presently have easy (library) access to the novel. Perhaps someone who has the novel at hand can furnish an additional, more authoritative answer. Dec 7, 2020 at 22:38

Yes, in chapter 1 of Walter Tevis's The Queen's Gambit the character Jolene is first introduced as black:

The tallest girl was the black one, Jolene. She was twelve. On her second day Beth stood behind her in Vitamin Line, and Jolene turned to look down at her, scowling. "You a real orphan or a bastard?"

Chapter 1 excerpt available online from the publisher, and the whole book available to borrow from the Internet Archive.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.