Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The central issues explored in The Battle of Jericho relate to peer pressure, exclusivity, and social acceptance. The quest to feel accepted by one’s peers is a central aspect of high school life, and Jericho is confronted with the fine line between positive, character-building challenges and dangerous, degrading hazing activities. Following Jericho through the pledge experience, readers can see the points along the way where he crosses that line. Different readers may see the line appear at different places in the story: when he sneaks out without permission, when he steals, or when he participates in the first pledge stunt or the last one. The story challenges its readers to judge these events for themselves and to consider how far they might go in their own lives in order to fit in. The novel’s characters recognize but fail to heed the warning signs of hazing, because they are convinced that no price is too high to pay for the benefits of membership. The book’s conclusion demonstrates that they are wrong.

The book’s impact is stronger for the way it allows the worst-case scenario to play out. It may be read as a cautionary tale, but on a deeper level it is as much about the struggle as it is about the end result of making the wrong choices. When people blur moral lines that bring minor consequences, the novel suggests, they will more readily blur lines that bring major ones.