What are some important literary devices in the story Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead? 

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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In his semi-autobiographical forth novel Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead uses flashback, satire, and foreshadowing to weave an engaging, comedic commentary about coming-of-age in a "post-racial" society.

Benji Cooper, the main character, narrates as an adult the story of the summer of his 15-year old self. Teenaged Benji spends the summer at Sag Harbor with his family and a group of friends. Cooper tells the story in a series of flashbacks and vignettes, narrating and at the same time commenting on the behavior of his younger self. Adult Cooper uses the information and political understanding he's gained since then to make judgments and explanations about his younger self. Reflecting on how he and his friends would make racial jokes about a fair-skinned ice cream man, the adult Cooper/narrator uses political concepts such as racial insecurity, double consciousness, and tokenism to make sense of his actions. The use of flashback allows the narrator to comment on his own behavior from a broader, more well-informed perspective than that of his younger self.  

Whitehead also uses foreshadowing to emphasize aspects of Benji's experience. Benji's alienation from his father, for example, is foreshadowed early; young Benji feels distinctly uncomfortable around his father and often sneaks out to avoid encounters with him. At night, Benji sometimes hears his father preparing a drink and becomes afraid, anticipating an outburst or drunken rage. Though their relationship remains stable (albeit distant) until near the end of the story, readers can clearly make out the oncoming conflict and disconnect, even from the very first pages of this modern coming-of-age classic.

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