Laurie King, in her novel To Play the Fool (1995), makes a homeless man her central hero. She creates a character who was once a famous scholar and who gave up his former life to become a vagrant. Her main character speaks only in quotations from the Bible, even when ordering food at a restaurant. Her novel is set in Berkeley and San Francisco, and the students at the University of California, Berkeley, have turned the man into a popular prophet.
King’s book is fascinating in that she brings in much material pertaining to the literary tradition of the fool. This figure dresses in motley and, through mime and other modes, acts the fool in order to expose foolishness in society. King’s implication is that her central character has given up the comfortable trappings of being socially acceptable. He has made a sacrifice of his former life. He has done so in order to reach more people on a common level and is, therefore, heroic.
It is a tradition in fiction to satirize and to question the customs and conventions of society. Homeless people are living outside of those customs that make up “normal life” for the majority. Therefore, they make good material for authors who wish to reflect upon the human condition from a perspective that is outside of the norm.