Charles Johnson Short Fiction Analysis
From the beginning of his writing life, Charles Johnson sought to combine a deep interest in the dominant aesthetic and philosophical concerns of the Western intellectual tradition with the specific issues and historical consequences of three centuries of chattel slavery and economic discrimination. In response to the numerous stereotypes and misconceptions about African American life that have accumulated in American culture, Johnson observed, “Good fiction sharpens our perception; great fiction changes it.” Assuming that pioneering black writers like Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston have shattered the silence surrounding the black experience, Johnson has attempted to open the field, further asserting, “We know, of course, more than oppression and discrimination.” Describing his objective as “whole sight,” Johnson has worked toward a “cross-cultural fertilization” in his fiction, which draws on the full range of technical strategies, which he calls “our inheritance as writers.”
One of the most influential people in Johnson’s development was the writer and theorist John Gardner, who stressed the importance of what Johnson calls “imaginative storytelling reinforced by massive technique.” In his short fiction collection, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Johnson’s technical facility is evident in stories that range from straight realism to fable, fantasy, folktale, allegory, and quasi-autobiographical confession, mingling modes within stories, while establishing an authentic, convincing narrative voice that reflects the psychological condition of his protagonists. The pattern of development in his stories is from what he calls “ignorance to knowledge, or from a lack of understanding to some greater understanding.” This understanding is often an aspect of the character’s quest for identity, a kind of progression in which Johnson resists a fixed notion of the self in favor of what he calls the “expansive.” The stories in the collection touch on some of the most fundamental aspects of African American life to reveal what Rudolph Byrd calls “the richness of the black world.”
“The Education of Mingo”
Each of the stories in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has a specific philosophic concept at the core of the narrative. “The Education of Mingo,” which opens the collection, is informed by the argument that humans are ultimately not responsible for their actions if there is an omniscient deity in control of the universe. The story is grounded in a very down-to-earth situation involving a white man, Moses Green, who has trained an African slave, Mingo, to echo all of his desires, attitudes, preferences, and predilections. As Mingo begins to act beyond the...
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