Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although Bucking the Sarge is most reliably approached as a coming-of-age narrative, the novel also critiques the capitalist embrace of materialism as an agent of corruption, an evil that abides no racial distinctions. Money drives Sarge and justifies her amorality. Indifferent to the consequences of the economic catastrophe that has gutted Flint, Sarge looks out only for herself. Drawing on the harsh criticism of capitalism found in both Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut, Bucking the Sarge is a strident reminder of the corrosive influence of wealth. Curtis is not naïve—after all, he abandoned his education to work more than thirteen years at a mind-numbingly dull but lucrative assembly-line job and, when he returned to school, was forced to pay for his education with menial jobs. He understands the importance of money. Indeed, Luther heads off to Florida with more than fifty thousand dollars to ensure his dreams. That contradictory sensibility—asserting that money is both the cause of evil and the stuff of hope—makes Bucking the Sarge a far more complicated read than much young adult fiction.