Kenan contrasts the older and newer generations of African Americans in order to highlight their differences. His younger characters are being drawn into mainstream America through their better educational and vocational opportunities, their exposure to the mass media, their access to better transportation, and, to some extent, their integration with their white neighbors. The older people simply cannot understand what is happening. They complain about the behavior of the younger people and give them advice that often falls on deaf ears. In A Visitation of Spirits, the older characters such as Ezekiel Cross serve as a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the real action of the story, which inevitably involves the young people; they are the only ones whose activities are of real significance.
The younger characters, particularly Horace Cross and Jimmy Greene, are portrayed from the inside, whereas the older characters are portrayed from the outside, from their behavior and their conversation. Kenan describes Horace’s and Jimmy’s thoughts and feelings in such detail that the novel in many places comes close to stream-of-consciousness writing.
Throughout the novel, Horace is cut off from everyone else by his psychosis. He is by far the most important character in the novel, which is essentially the story of his mental breakdown. His characterization, therefore, presents the greatest creative challenge to the author, and it is here that...
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