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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

Dreamer is a novel by American writer Charles Johnson. The book is a fictionalized retelling of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and the events of the Civil Rights movement.

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The story is centered on Chaym Smith, who is hired as a stand-in for Martin Luther King due to their uncanny resemblance. In this sense, Chaym becomes a mirror reflection of the famous civil rights leader, and MLK is a mirror reflection of Black America and the African American experience.

On the other hand, it is Chaym who will get hurt or killed if an assassination attempt occurs, so it brings up the question of man's importance. Is MLK more important because he is a high-ranking leader in the black community and an icon in global politics, and is Chaym less important because he represents the common black man? These are questions that Johnson try to explore in the novel, which provides insights into complex topics that are not usually spoken of in public.

In the novel, Martin Luther King is portrayed in a positive but realistic light. The novel showcases intimate moments between King and his family. It shows King's worries and relations with various political figures and forces. In essence, by making the protagonist, Chaym, a doppelganger of MLK, the author is able to examine the various experiences of different African Americans whilst simultaneously examining the biography of King.

This is because Chaym figuratively represents the common black American and, through his work as King's stand-in, represents and sees firsthand the extraordinary efforts of black leaders during a turbulent and monumental time in American history. The novel also addresses the dangers of pro-black activism during the era, especially in the South. The fact that the character is hired as a stand-in for King shows that people are willing to hurt or murder just to silence black leaders like MLK.


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2223

Charles Johnson was one of the late John Gardner’s most successful writing students—Raymond Carver was the other—and in Johnson’s fiction the influence shows. It shows most in Johnson’s passion for ideas and in the way that, throughout his career, he has practiced what Gardner termed “moral fiction” and Johnson prefers to call “responsible fiction.” Nowhere is Johnson’s sense of responsibility to reader and society alike more evident or important than in Dreamer, his latest, as well as riskiest, novel.

Much of Johnson’s story takes place in Chicago during the summer of 1966, the year Martin Luther King, Jr., made the risky decision to take the Civil Rights movement north. Johnson’s narrative ploy is nearly as daring, though not unprecedented. Playing a variation on a tactic exploited so brilliantly by E. L. Doctorow, Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, and others, he weaves together history and imagination, historical personages and fictional characters. One of Dreamer’s two most important imagined characters is the novel’s semiautobiographical narrator, Matthew Bishop. “Cursed with a shy, Victorian presence,” the frog-eyed, bespectacled, and bookish Bishop dropped out of college following the death of his mother the year before and joined the movement as a way to keep her already fading memory alive. Bishop, who reveres his mother (who, in turn, revered King), never knew his father, one of the novel’s several literal and metaphorical deadbeat dads who are the polar opposites of King and the responsible novelist.

Part of Bishop’s Southern Christian Leadership Council job involves “recording the Revolution, preserving its secrets for posterity—particularly what took place in the interstices.” One of those interstitial events is the arrival of Chaym Smith at the “foul-smelling flat”...

(The entire section contains 2534 words.)

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