Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
A Visitation of Spirits is essentially a novel about homosexuality. Young Horace Cross finds himself irresistibly attracted to men and has been having one affair after another. He finds that his attraction to males does not recognize racial barriers; he has love affairs with virile white actors who are playing in summer stock in his rural area, and he prefers to associate with a group of rowdy young white males who are considered renegades and dropouts at his high school. Horace is exceptionally bright and has been getting top grades up until the time of this adolescent crisis. Now his grades have plummeted, and all of his relatives, including his doting grandfather, are pressuring him to change back into the polite, ambitious, well-behaved boy he had been.
Horace goes to his cousin, the Reverend Jimmy Greene, with his problem, asking him in confidence what he can do, if anything, to renounce his homosexual tendencies. Jimmy has been through the same crisis himself and is ashamed to discuss it openly. He simply tells Horace he will outgrow it. It becomes evident, however, that Jimmy himself has never outgrown his own homosexual proclivities and that denying them has turned him into a sort of spiritual and sexual eunuch. His failure to help Horace causes him to begin to reevaluate his entire life.
Jimmy serves as a foil to Horace, more or less the way Leopold Bloom served as a foil to Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s classic novel...
(The entire section is 760 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Alternating between April, 1984, narratives of Horace’s experience with magic and December, 1985, narratives of a family visit to a dying cousin, A Visitation of Spirits tells the story of a sixteen-year-old African American boy who cannot transform himself away from homosexuality and so cannot continue to face his family and his community.
A Visitation of Spirits is divided into five major sections, each including April, 1984, and December, 1985, narratives. The story is told predominantly from a limited-omniscient perspective; the center of consciousness shifts within these sections among Horace, Jimmy, Zeke, and Ruth. Three segments entitled “Confession” (two from Jimmy, one from Horace) break the pattern of alternation, with each of the confessions showing the two figures wrestling with their own memories.
The 1985 narratives center on Jimmy, Aunt Ruth, and Uncle Zeke driving to see their cousin Asa, seriously ill in the hospital. These scenes reveal the family at work. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Zeke argue and accuse each other, with Jimmy trying to act the peacemaker; he is playing the role of clergyman rather awkwardly because he is first and foremost a nephew. Their journey takes them to a hospital; once there, Ruth cannot abide the falseness of those who would pray for Asa to live. Their journey home from the hospital finds them in a restaurant, where a white waitress and Ruth argue. The struggle between generations...
(The entire section is 695 words.)