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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

John Edgar Wideman is a celebrated author whose works often explore the complexities of race relations in America. There are a number of different characters depicted in his novel The Cattle Killing. In this response, I will focus on outlining a few of the important characters in this creative, experimental work of fiction. I will also provide some quotes from the author that provide insight into his approach to characterization in The Cattle Killing.

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The Preacher

While more than one character performs the role of narrator in The Cattle Killing, the primary narrator is a preacher of mixed black and white heritage. This preacher is a free man prone to experiencing mysterious visions during seizures. He is driven to travel to Philadelphia in 1793 due to these visions. He travels during a time in which the yellow fever epidemic is raging in America.

Some of the ghostly presences the preacher witnesses include a black female servant and a deceased white child. But the preacher is also haunted by memories of people killed in horrific acts of racist violence. These people include a group of black religious people and an interracial couple. As the novel progresses, the preacher loses touch with the Christian faith he has dedicated himself to representing.

In an interview with Laura Miller for Salon (1996) Wideman noted how the preacher is motivated by a desire for a particular type of love that, by its nature, will always be unrequited:

"My preacher in the book thinks he's chasing a flesh-and-blood woman. But what attracts him is the spirit that is contained in that particular envelope of body . . . . He will never be able to capture—through the flesh, or the pursuit of the flesh of a particular person—everything that a spirit contains. Therefore it might be true that all love is doomed to be unrequited or unfulfilled . . . That's what keeps you coming back, in a way."

The African Xhosa Tribe

The cattle killing of the book's title is a reference to the actions of the African Xhosa tribe. Acting...

(The entire section contains 524 words.)

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