Company Man Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In this first novel, Brent Wade explores the question of ego identity as it relates to a black man trying to make his way up the corporate ladder in white America. The questions are those of identity, centering on alienation and assimilation. William Covington, the protagonist of the novel, has carefully done everything right so as to assimilate himself into the “old boy” patronage network of the corporation he works for. As director of marketing communications at Varitech Industries, Covington has a fine salary, a beautiful wife, a handsome house, and a red Jaguar XJ-6, the kind of car he had always dreamed of having. In addition, Covington has the patronage of the company’s chief executive officer. Covington is unsteady in his position, however, haunted by his grandmother’s admonitions on one hand and by the loyalty he believes he owes to his corporate patron on the other. When he is asked by a black employee, Carl Rice, to take the side of machinists in a company dispute, Covington’s tensions begin to increase, building to the point that he attempts to kill himself with a gunshot in the head. He is successful in blowing off a side of his head, thus paralyzing himself so as to affect his speech and movement and maim his facial muscles.

The novel is told in a series of journal entries set up as though they were letters written to a man who was Covington’s best friend in high school, a man whom Covington had carelessly rejected, breaking not only a close and loving relationship but also a dream of lifelong friendship and male bonding. This loss of friendship hounds Covington throughout his ordeal as he seeks answers to what, just beyond his grasp, is preying on his mind. Covington’s friend, Paul Walker, apparently has been estranged not only from Covington but also from childhood friends, hometown, and home state. Walker and Covington have not seen each other since they were seventeen, just before their high school graduation. The boys were swimming, and Paul chose that time to reveal his homosexuality. Not strong enough in his own sexuality to accept Paul’s situation, Covington turned away from the best friendship he had and the only person he knew who matched his own cleverness and ambitions. In many ways Paul is a mirror for Covington’s validity, his existence. Without Paul, Covington has only his grandmother’s advice not to be “niggerish” and the poses that he knows will be demanded of him by his boss. In his journal notes, Covington addresses Paul directly, trying not only to apologize and thus attempt to remedy damage done to Paul and their friendship but also to find that mirror of himself that he needs before he can find himself.

Not surprisingly, one of the first symptoms of Covington’s state of mind is his own impotence. His wife, Paula, is the very model of a young executive’s spouse, with manners suitable to cocktail parties and conversational skills to match any member of the corporate group. Paula is also blessed with the ability to function at elegant dinners. Her light skin color is another asset suited to young black executives on the rise who desire assimilation over anything else. Indeed, Covington’s grandmother certainly would have approved of Paula, who represents for Covington in the corporate world proof both of his own potency and of his good...

(The entire section is 1351 words.)