Captain Abraham Blackman is, simultaneously, a complex yet allegorical figure. He serves as narrator, protagonist, commentator, observer, and teacher throughout the novel. As he marches from battle to battle, Blackman wrestles with the problems of race relations throughout the ages. He is a man who confronts his fears and anger much as he confronts his duties: head-on. He is tormented through two hundred years of dreams by his antagonist, Major Whittman. He recognizes in the light-haired, light-eyed Whittman the racist and imperialist military mind-set. In two time periods (the War of 1812 and the Plains Wars), Blackman must serve under light-haired men of the same ilk as Whittman: Andrew Jackson and General George Custer, both of whose inhumanity to the indigenous peoples was legendary.
Like the biblical Abraham, Blackman becomes the leader of an oppressed people, thus becoming the new Abraham. Through Blackman’s teaching, young African Americans such as Luther Woodcock will subvert the Whittmans, and Jews such as Robert Doctorow will aid the black revolutionary movement. The younger soldiers who have learned from Blackman are not the passive victims of the past, as the apocalyptic ending bears out.
On the other hand, Blackman’s nemesis, the narrow-minded, petty Major Whittman, is purely allegorical. He is not Walt Whitman, who as a poet sought to encompass all humanity, but instead the opposite of what the poet represented. Ishmael...
(The entire section is 490 words.)