A Different Drummer Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series) - Essay

William Melvin Kelley

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As many readers have noticed, William Melvin Kelley’s first novel suggests a black writer’s mature response to the work of the South’s greatest novelist, William Faulkner (1897-1962). Like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Kelley’s fictional Southern state with its history of interrelated black and white families provides him with a way of crystallizing the meaning of Southern history. General Dewey Willson’s historic example is like that of Colonel John Sartoris in Faulkner’s novel Sartoris (1929; revised as Flags in the Dust, 1929). Both writers share, moreover, a basic concern with the theme of freedom and with the way slavery has demeaned both blacks and whites.

Kelley has been influenced by Faulkner not only in terms of themes and characters but also in the way that he handles point of view and chronology. Like Faulkner in Go Down, Moses (1942), Kelley begins in the present and moves rapidly into the past. Separate chapters of A Different Drummer reflect different periods of time and points of view, as is true in much of Faulkner’s fiction. Both writers withhold crucial information and force readers to assemble history in the fragments of evidence offered in widely separated chapters. In this way, not only is considerable suspense and mystery generated but also readers are forced to take individual responsibility for making the narratives of the novel cohere.

A comparison between these...

(The entire section is 540 words.)