Douglas Turner Ward Theophilus Lewis - Essay

Theophilus Lewis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The closest I can come to describing [The Reckoning] is to call it a black power melodrama. It may be reasonably described as a Jesse James story in black face. According to legend, Jesse James robbed the rich to give to the poor. In Reckoning a Negro pimp blackmails a racist Southern Governor to advance the cause of racial equality….

This type of story presumes that the end justifies the means, a premise that diminishes dramatic impact. In The Reckoning we see one scoundrel striving to outsmart another, reducing the confrontation to the level of a dog fight. We can derive no moral satisfaction from a victory by either of the antagonists. The author substitutes social justice for moral principle, but social issues change while the moral element in drama has remained stable for centuries. The Reckoning is not one of the author's better efforts.

The characters, however, are as believable as your neighbors; and the dialogue has the rhythm of angry poetry. (pp. 244-45)

If you are interested in social drama, or better race relations, your reviewer calls The Reckoning to your attention. With all its limitations, it is engrossing theatre. (p. 245)

Theophilus Lewis, "'The Reckoning'," in America (© America Press, 1969; all rights reserved), Vol. 121, No. 9, September 27, 1969, pp. 244-45.