Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Exchange Value” is a tightly compressed story. The majority of the story concerns Loftis and Cooter’s discovery and removal of Elnora Bailey’s wealth. Because Johnson has serious ethical questions to explore, he uses many careful techniques to tip off his deeper meaning. For example, Loftis’s transformation into a miser like Elnora is signaled in part by adjectives. When Cooter recalls giving Elnora some change, he describes her walk as “crablike”; several pages later, when he returns from his shopping spree, Loftis is described as “crabby.”

Similarly, Johnson uses language to present Cooter as a keenly intuitive young man aware of the magical nature of this money. When he sees Elnora’s wealth, he tells Loftis that he is afraid the money is cursed. Later, as they are moving her things to their apartment, he imagines himself and Loftis as two wizards, able to transform one thing into another. Finally, seeing Elnora Bailey’s body carried away, he understands that her wealth had a spellbinding quality on her.

The colloquial language of the first-person narrator makes for an entertaining and compelling narration. When Johnson has the narrator suddenly experience deeper insights, the narrative suffers from lack of consistency. The problem any writer faces when trying to use a spoken language as the basis for a written narration is that the true hesitations, digressions, and ellipses of spoken language would be intolerably...

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Exchange Value Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Byrd, Rudolph P., ed. I Call Myself an Artist: Writings by and About Charles Johnson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Crouch, Stanley. “Charles Johnson, Free at Last.” The Village Voice, July 19, 1983, 30-31.

Ghosh, Nibir K. “From Narrow Complaint to Broad Celebration: A Conversation with Charles Johnson.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 29 (Fall/Winter, 2004): 359-378.

Graham, Maryemma. “Charles R. Johnson.” In Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, edited by Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris. Vol. 33 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984.

Hardack, Richard. “Black Skin, White Tissues: Local Color and Universal Solvents in the Novels of Charles Johnson.” Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters 22 (Fall, 1999): 1028-1053.

Johnson, Charles. Interview by Jonathan Little. Contemporary Literature 34, no. 2 (Summer, 1993): 159.

Johnson, Charles. “John Gardner as Mentor.” African American Review 30 (Winter, 1996): 619-624.

Little, Jonathan. Charles Johnson’s Spiritual Imagination. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.

McWilliams, Jim, ed. Passing the Three Gates: Interviews with Charles Johnson. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.

Nash, William R. Charles Johnson’s Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Olderman, Raymond. “American Literature, 1974-1976.” Contemporary Literature 19 (Autumn, 1978): 497-527.

Peterson, V. R. “Charles Johnson.” Essence 21 (April, 1991): 36.

Rushdy, Ashraf H. A. “The Phenomenology of the Allmuseri: Charles Johnson and the Subject of the Narrative of Slavery.” African American Review 26, no. 3 (Fall, 1992): 373.

Steinberg, Marc. “Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage: Fictionalizing History and Historicizing Fiction.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 45 (Winter, 2003): 375-390.

Storhoff, Charles. Understanding Charles Johnson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.