Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The theme of faith is central to Colter’s novel. It is faith, or the lack thereof, that defines each of the characters. Meshach considers himself to be a hypocrite because he feels faithless, even though he has been a very successful preacher. His success raises the question of his congregation’s faith. Colter suggests that those who are misled by a man consciously masquerading as a messenger of God may themselves be less faithful than they seem.

Cager, the hero, is mythologized precisely because, in contrast to the narrator, he has an abundance of faith. In fact, Cager has so much faith in his ability to change the world for the better that he borders on being gullible. He is ready to believe that Chicago is a city of militant African Americans after reading one propagandistic newspaper. He believes that Shorty George and the other black townspeople are capable of mustering a large army, although everyone else in the town ridicules the ragtag band of men. When he thinks he has finally figured out why Ofield Smalls rebelled against his generous white masters, Cager is filled with faith that his gesture of rebellion can take on the same importance and meaning.

Flo’s love for Cager is based largely on her faith in Cager’s single-minded dedication to improving the lot of his people. When comparing Meshach to Cager, Flo points out that Cager is trustworthy, because he is true to his real identity, while Meshach is a charlatan who only...

(The entire section is 549 words.)