The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Written over a period of four years and spanning more than eight hundred pages, Dhalgren is Samuel R. Delany’s magnum opus. Dhalgren’s main character is the twenty-seven-year-old Kid, who suffers from selective amnesia and other mental disturbances. At the novel’s start, Kid is hitchhiking to Bellona, a midwestern city trapped by a mysterious disaster in a shifting zone of reality where time runs in loops and occasionally a giant red sun or two moons appear in the heavens.

On his way into Bellona, Kid meets a strange Asian woman who, after they make love, turns into a tree. This surreal opening begins Dhalgren’s conflicting realities: Are the novel’s strange events real, or are they the result of Kid’s delusional point of view?

Upon entering Bellona, Kid becomes the lover of a former electrical engineer named Tak, who introduces Kid to the cult of George Harrison, a powerful black man worshiped in Bellona’s ghetto. Tak takes Kid to the city’s hippie commune, and there Kid meets Lanya, who becomes Kid’s next lover. Kid also finds a notebook containing the journal of an anonymous past owner. Be-cause of Dhalgren’s time loops and Kid’s amnesia, Kid himself could have written the journal at an earlier or later time.

Kid begins to write poetry in this notebook. These poems become the basis for Brass Orchids, a book published by Roger Calkins, the eccentric owner of the city’s newspaper, the Bellona Times.


(The entire section is 627 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Divided into seven parts, Dhalgren is composed of social chat, fragments, parodies, lectures, sermons, newspaper stories, and...

(The entire section is 274 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The critique of society presented in Dhalgren is based upon the libertarian movements of the 1960s, especially the civil-rights...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Theodore Sturgeon and Alfred Bester are the science fiction writers to whom Delany owes most in themes and style, especially evident is the...

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Babel-17 (1966) is Delany's first novel in which his interest in linguistic ambiguities becomes prominent. The protagonist, the poet...

(The entire section is 793 words.)


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Barbour, Douglas. “Cultural Invention and Metaphor in the Novels of Samuel R. Delany.” Foundation 7/8 (March, 1975): 105-121.

Broderick, Damien. Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Dornemann, Rudi, and Eric Lorberer. “A Silent Interview with Samuel R. Delany.” Rain Taxi Review of Books 5, no. 4 (2000).

Fox, Robert Elliot. Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of Leroi Jones, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Sallis, James. Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Tucker, Jeffrey Allen. A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R. Delany, Race, Identity, and Difference. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

Tucker, Jeffrey Allen. “Studying the Works of Samuel R. Delany.” Ohio University College of Arts and Sciences Forum 15 (Spring, 1998).