Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
In some respects, John A. Williams’s corpus is remarkably homogeneous. Many of the obsessive themes and concerns of his previous novels Night Song and The Man Who Cried I Am recur in Captain Blackman. The conspiratorial view of events in society can be found in the enigmatic death of Richie Stokes (Eagle) in Night Song and the apocalyptic King Alfred document in The Man Who Cried I Am. The need to strike back is glimpsed in a remark by Eagle about getting money to buy weapons (Night Song) and in protagonist Max Reddick’s purchase of a veritable arsenal in The Man Who Cried I Am. Further, the centrality of love is expressed by the relationships between the main characters Keel and Della in Night Song and Max Reddick and Margrit in The Man Who Cried I Am (indeed, Max dies saying Margrit’s name, similar to Blackman’s utterance of Mimosa’s before firing at the Vietnamese enemy).
Also, Captain Blackman is in some respects adumbrated by The Man Who Cried I Am. The apocalyptic plan for racial genocide of blacks in the latter is answered in the former by Blackman’s counterconspiracy; Max Reddick’s military experience and his vow to a Kennedy aide that he could recite to him a documented history of maltreatment of blacks in the military and elsewhere are elaborated in Captain Blackman.
This novel is, however, an advance over the others. While as socially conscious and didactic as Williams’s preceding works, it is not marred by long, repeated speeches by characters about white injustice. Characters are portrayed more deftly, with more interest shown in them, and there is a greater mustering of vivid and memorable minor characters (such as Flag Sergeant Anselmas Plancianois, Old Man Flood, black frontier scout Brit Johnson, Lieutenant Buck Himes, Richard Boston, Gummidge, Linkey, and “The Gold Dust Twins”—Flash and Tisdale). Moreover,...
(The entire section is 476 words.)