Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In its focus upon Eddie’s drive to discover himself through his return to home and family, A Glance Away extends two of the traditional concerns of black American literature—the theme of masking, living behind a mask, and the quest for a lost heritage. As a black man in a white world that rejects his individuality and his manhood, Eddie suffers from the spiritual schizophrenia that comes from wearing a mask—that is, from appearing to be other than what he is. This malaise possesses Eddie most acutely when he recalls his bus trip to the drug clinic in the South as a moment when he studied “how to be nothing.” The mask that Eddie wears, however, is more apparent in his relations with his family. Rather than divide him from the white world, which does not figure prominently in the story, Eddie’s inner division separates him from his mother and sister. The Eddie whom they believe they see, he tells Bette, is dead. Eddie, in his idealized social function as son and brother, does not exist; the man who returns home is the morally pregnant Eddie, the one who wants to give birth through words to his vision of life and who hopes to have that vision, if not shared, at least heard and understood. When the mask is stripped away in the final episode—after Eddie has lost his mother, his sister, and his lover—the creature revealed is not a mature, individuated human being but a spiritually isolated mind wracked by its inherent discontinuities and, when left...

(The entire section is 494 words.)