Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Captain Blackman is unique because it proffers a study of the African American military experience within a fictional narrative. Williams uses war as the means to explore the human experience much as canonical writers such as Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos had done before him. As many critics have noted, Captain Blackman transcends the war experience motif of these writers through Williams’s innovative use of structure, diverse narrative technique, and subject matter. At the time it was published, the novel was heralded for its inclusive treatment of war and racism. Often cited for praise is Williams’s employment of diverse syntactical possibilities to develop his thesis. Stylistically, the novel interweaves journalistic prose with surrealistic structure.
As a writer, Williams views his role as a disseminator of historical accounts. In an article in the New York Herald in 1964, he asserted that American writers were just beginning to correct the errors of history as it is taught and understood. Such miswriting is evidence of the manipulation of the predominant class. Williams charges the novelist not to dismiss the African American contribution to history but to use it to rewrite history. Captain Blackman is such a rewriting.