Among Conroy's more important themes in this novel are racism and the accompanying prejudice, religion, education, family, isolation, and maturation. Conroy the character, usually called Pat, embarks upon a two-fold quest. The first is that of achieving his own destiny, one about which he has most definite ideas. The second is the liberation of the black island children, and by extension, of their families, from the white-instituted illiteracy which binds them to their past as surely as the chains of slavery did their forefathers. The prejudice he must fight to reach his goals comes in several different forms. The school superintendent, Dr. Henry Piedmont, represents the white establishment in its purest and most deadly form. While outwardly showing an interest in Conroy and his various projects at the island school, he will not allow challenge to his established administrative procedures. Black education differs from white education, and such differences must not be challenged. Good or bad, the system remains sacrosanct.
More insidious is the prejudice of the blacks themselves. While Pat eventually gains the trust of the children and their families, he remains powerless to correct the self-silencing they exhibit. Theirs is an inheritance of well-versed subservience to the whites. They have learned not to question or criticize white policy if they want to be left alone to structure their black society as they please. As Conroy states, "The people of the...
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