Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Reckless Eyeballing is written in broad, extravagant gestures that often have the characters lecturing one another at the tops of their voices. Each character represents a particular viewpoint; there is little agreement and no sympathy among them, and the novel thus has a chilling, satiric quality. The wanton attacks of the Flower Phantom and Jim Minsk’s brutal death at the hands of anti-Semitic extremists contribute to this sense of frozen hatreds incapable of thawing. Ian Ball is caught in the middle of philosophical fights between black males and black feminists and between white and black feminists. The powerful prejudices of each group are magnified by the intense competition in the Manhattan theater world. As a social satire, the novel portrays the contradictory aspects of political correctness that lie behind the main characters’ behaviors and decisions. The extreme stances of Jake Brashford and Randy Shank are diametrically opposed to the equally fanatic postures of Tremonisha Smarts and Becky French. Ian’s overweening ambition to be a famous playwright puts him in a difficult position. He pays lip service to Randy Shank while seeing him as a buffoon, and he silently ridicules Jake Brashford, who has provided him with grants and support. At the same time, he wants to co-opt their black protest reputations without declaring himself a member of their group. In addition, Ian’s first play, Suzanna, about a black female plantation hand who uses sexual manipulation to survive, has gotten him in trouble with both black and white feminists. Ian desperately wants his play Reckless Eyeballing produced, and this leads him to make concessions that run contrary to his natural inclinations. He consents to the drastic alteration demanded by Becky French that Ham Hill be in effect condemned twice for the indiscretion of looking at a white woman.

The state of Ian’s mind is suggested in the opening sequence of the novel, in...

(The entire section is 803 words.)

Reckless Eyeballing Social Concerns / Themes

Although the dust jacket for Reckless Eyeballing says the novel is "men vs. women, blacks vs. Jews, North vs. South, and Ishmael Reed...

(The entire section is 523 words.)