A Different Drummer charts the uneasy relationship between two families, the white Willsons and black Calibans. Specifically, the book examines Tucker Caliban’s symbolic destruction of his slave past and the effects of his acts upon the townspeople of Sutton, a fictional small town in the South. Much of the novel is told in flashbacks. The present action of the novel, told from the point of view of several characters and out of chronological sequence, spans a three-day period from Thursday, May 30, when a salt truck arrives in town, through Saturday, June 1, the day of the lynching of Bennett Bradshaw.
On Thursday, the arrival of a truck loaded with rock salt creates a commotion at Sutton’s general store. The driver asks directions to the Caliban farm, part of the former Willson plantation where the first slave Caliban worked; Tucker has bought the property from David Willson. The news soon arrives that Tucker is spreading salt on his land to kill it, and the loungers at the store adjourn to watch Tucker slaughter his livestock, smash a grandfather clock that arrived on the same slave ship as his African ancestor, and burn his house to the ground. Mister Leland is there with his father, trying to understand what is happening, and Tucker tells him, “You young, ain’t you. . . . And you ain’t lost nothing, has you.” Later, the boy begins to understand that Tucker “had been robbed of something but . . . never even knew he owned what had been taken from him.”
Tucker has recognized that his family has had the chance to be truly free but has not taken it. Earlier, when he refused to give his wife a dollar to renew her membership in the National Society for Colored Affairs, he declared, “They ain’t working for my rights. . . . I’m fighting all my battles myself.” Methodically, he has set about destroying all remnants of slavery in his own life.
By Friday, the African Americans...
(The entire section is 792 words.)