A Chocolate Soldier Critical Context
by Cyrus Colter

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In his review of A Chocolate Soldier, writer Brooke K. Horvath notes Colter’s borrowing of a historical conflict. Black educator Booker T. Washington wanted black people to have equal economic opportunities but separate social structures, while activist W. E. B. Du Bois believed that equal economic opportunity alone was not enough. Although Horvath praises the novel’s theme, he is skeptical about its effectiveness, noting that one of the problems of a first-person narration is that awkwardness results when the speaker recounts episodes about which he or she could not know. Poet and editor Reginald Gibbons points out that in A Chocolate Soldier, Colter’s fifth work of fiction, the author’s conscious use of an open-ended form is a stylistically sophisticated way of addressing the lack of resolution in the lives of believable characters faced with difficult choices. Gibbons praises Colter’s development of characters, noting Cager as a particularly effective portrait of an individual torn in two directions by his single-minded determination at war with his ethical sensibilities. Furthermore, Gibbons notes the mythological dimension of the novel. Recognizing that the characters are often intended to seem overly dramatic and, in Meshach’s case, omniscient, Gibbons praises the high tragedy of Colter’s plot.

A Chocolate Soldier was also favorably received by Fred Shafer. In an interview with Colter, Shafer suggested that he could detect stylistic influences from Irish author James Joyce in the novel’s characters, who, like Joyce’s creations, are multidimensional, almost mythic individuals who face the circumstances they encounter not with simplistic clarity but with a rich complexity true to real life.