A Chocolate Soldier is a story within a story that reveals the obsession and loneliness of Meshach Barry’s life. He narrates the history of his hero, a classmate at Gladstone College thirty-five years earlier. The novel is a nonlinear direct address narrative, flashing from the present, in which Meshach attempts to make emotional contact with his estranged daughter Carol through the act of sharing his story, to the past, in which closely alternating segments in the lives of Meshach and Cager establish the contrast between them. The tragedy of the novel is that Carol is unable to understand that her father needs to retell this story in order to come to terms with the meaning of his life. To Carol, Meshach’s interest in Cager’s life is nothing but a useless compulsion. Because Carol, Meshach’s only human connection, refuses to listen to her father’s story, he is forced to turn and speak directly to the audience.
Meshach and Cager, both from rural southern families, meet at Gladstone College, an all-black school in Valhalla, Tennessee, in the midst of World War II. Meshach has been forced by his mother to study to be a preacher. Cager is determined to escape the fate of his sharecropper father by becoming a militant black leader.
Eventually Cager’s belief that education is useless without force to support it leads him to neglect his studies in favor of training the small, all-black militia he has mustered among the townspeople. Cager is a visionary leader, but before long the other members of the group come to believe that their effort is useless, and they leave him. Disheartened by this failure and hurt by his girlfriend Flo’s brutal honesty concerning the misshapenness of his sexual organ,...
(The entire section is 710 words.)