Walter Mosley Long Fiction Analysis
Walter Mosley has been praised for his powerful evocation of African Americans and their milieu. His novels show African Americans interacting with each other, creating their own problems and solutions. While the white power structure certainly impinges on these characters, they are not victims. On the contrary, they are accorded their full humanity and the right, so to speak, to commit their own mistakes and achieve their own successes as individuals and as a people.
RL’s Dream has been compared favorably with Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man (1952), an apt comparison, since Mosley, like his illustrious predecessor, writes a prose that is suffused with the rhythms of the blues. Like Ellison, Mosley does not blink at the harshness of the African American experience, and he finds a meaning in suffering, a definition of humanity, that triumphs over degradation.
Robert “RL” Johnson, a legendary blues musician, is the presiding presence in the novel. Atwater “Soupspoon” Wise is an aging African American musician obsessed with memories of RL and determined to recover for posterity the role of the blues in African American life. Kiki Waters, a white girl from Arkansas, befriends the aging Soupspoon, takes care of him, and helps to ensure that he is able to tell his life story.
RL exists only in the memories of those he touched with his music. By dreaming of RL, Soupspoon provides the geography of the blues, explaining to the young Kiki how it was for talented musicians who had to disguise their genius by playing the slack-jawed, clownish Negro—except that RL refused to bow to this form of degradation, paying the physical and mental price for his independence: “Ain’t no start to his misery,” Soupspoon’s book says of RL, “An’ death could not never ease his kinda pain.”
Life is a tragedy and full of pain, and yet it is a story that is redeemable in the beauty of the blues. This is the story of the blues that Soupspoon conveys to Kiki and a story that he is determined to share with the world. Years earlier, he was asked to provide an account of his career, but his life was too complicated and his suffering too great for him to contemplate telling his own tale. Now confronting certain death, Soupspoon finds that he has the motivation and the perspective to organize his experience into a narrative, which he composes on a tape recorder as he relates his memories to Kiki and others.
Soupspoon regards RL’s music as the essence of the blues—perhaps because RL did not permit any event or experience to distract him from the making of music. He is, then, the blues personified, always beset with suffering and yet indomitable and inimitable. The latter point is what Soupspoon emphasizes; that is, he regards himself as a pale imitation of RL because RL is the epitome of a form of music that has allowed a whole people to endure suffering and even to prevail by creating great art.
RL is a “dream” in the sense that he represents the artist’s aspirations, the ideal of a great music that transcends life’s limitations and the frailties of the artists who perform that music. By recounting his “dream” of RL, Soupspoon is ennobling not only his life but also the strivings of the people blues artists muse about in their music.
Walkin’ the Dog
Walkin’ the Dog is Mosley’s second novel in his series featuring Socrates Fortlow, an ex-convict who has settled down to make his quiet way in the world but who is constantly challenged by events in his neighborhood and community that make it difficult for him to remain a peaceful man. Fortlow’s difficulty is that he cannot ignore injustice. At the same time, he realizes that for the first time in his life he may actually have the opportunity to live like a normal person with a decent job and home, although he can hardly accept...
(The entire section is 1615 words.)