Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602
In Dreamer, Charles Johnson puts forward a bizarre speculative scenario: What if Martin Luther King, Jr. were not an entirely singular person? At least, that is, in terms of appearance—what if there were another man who was basically his twin, so like him visually that only the closest loved ones could tell them apart? This double that Johnson creates is named Smith. But his first name is Chaym, “life” in Hebrew. Part of the mission offered to him, once his extreme resemblance has been noted, is to be available to give his life—to serve as a body double for King in the most dangerous situations. The idea of actual and possible sacrifice, of one’s identity to be taken for another man, and of one’s whole life dedicated to a cause dominate the novel. After Smith accepts the idea of doubling for King, he realizes he has in one sense disappeared. Although he can absorb partially what is offered to King, in some ways those complex emotions are suffocating Smith because of
the love and admiration showered on his famous twin, seeing the Good but powerless to be it, lost in his littleness . . . King’s double was undergoing a kind of living death . . .
Taking the reader inside the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s mind, the author speculates on the motivations that push Dr. King to continue in his civil rights work, constantly taking the messages of equality and justice to different communities, to inspire and motivate as much as to effect legal and social reform. As King regroups in Chicago, where he has recently arrived, through his exhaustion he reflects on the journey. The nonstop efforts, with constant traveling, sleepless nights, and worries over threats are all taking their toll, as he admits he is not in control of his own life. While his own goal was not to achieve the kind of singular status he now has, part of him feels predestined to have had a calling. In emanating a light that can guide others, he is wasting away, like a candle burning down.
His life had always belonged to others. For ten years, he’d been God’s athlete, traveling nearly eight million miles . . . back and forth a country as divided as it had been during the Civil War . . . More tired, hated, acclaimed,...
(The entire section contains 602 words.)
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