A satiric interpretation of Ishmael Reed’s America in the early 1990’s, Japanese by Spring is the story of a typical (though fictitious) California college in the final years of the George Bush administration. Japanese by Spring is written in three parts of unequal length, and concludes with an epilogue. Part 2 could be considered merely a brief interlude (at ten pages, it is half the length of the epilogue), except that it advances the plot sharply and is a focal point of the action in the novel.
The story begins with a brief biography and character sketch of the protagonist, Benjamin “Chappie” Puttbutt. The son of two African American career Air Force officers, Puttbutt was sent to the Air Force Academy in the 1960’s. There, Puttbutt went through a rebellious black consciousness stage, but he took a conservative turn after a tragic love affair with the wife of his Japanese professor. Unnerved by the experience, Puttbutt becomes a pacifist and ends up teaching English at Jack London College.
As the novel opens, a decision is pending on whether or not Puttbutt will be granted tenure. The tenure decision dominates the entire first section of the novel. Puttbutt does everything he can to appear to be a team player: When black students are lynched on campus, Puttbutt tells the press that the students deserved their beatings because of their excessive demands. Yet there are signs of trouble for Puttbutt.
The first sign is in the classroom. Some of the more bigoted white students, notably Robert Bass, Jr., the son of a local industrialist who contributes heavily to the college, openly ridicule him in class.
Puttbutt tries to be conciliatory on all fronts: Many liberal professors (especially the dean of “Humanity,” Robert Hurt) are outraged at the blatant racism of the attack on Puttbutt, but the college president, Bright Stool, quiets demands for Bass’s expulsion. The chair of the African studies department, Dr. Charles Obi, who should be most...
(The entire section is 825 words.)