Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330
The diverse, intersecting plots of Dreamer all connect with the theme that within any person’s dream, there always lurks the possibility of a nightmare: dark forces operate in the world. Charles Johnson locates his analysis of evil and its mysterious workings in a fictionalized account of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The social theme of racial injustice being a dominant aspect of US society is explored throughout the book. Closely related is the theme of sacrifice: what should a person be willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Should people reasonably expect that others will make those sacrifices for them? Charles Johnson reminds us that these are not abstract philosophical questions. By positing an alternate universe that includes a doppelgänger of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Johnson urges us to rethink the many sacrifices that some Americans have made to help secure the liberty of all Americans.
The events of 1968, including the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy, caused many Americans to rethink the fundamental notions of freedom and security that they associated with normal American society. For others, especially many African Americans, those murders confirmed the insecurity and intimidation that they experienced on a daily basis. The FBI’s 1950s–1960s investigation and surveillance of civil rights activists, including Dr. King, was known as COINTELPRO; first publicly exposed in 1971, it became the subject of US congressional investigations beginning in 1976.
Because the likelihood of assassination had been widely discussed within the movement, Johnson’s idea that a stand-in would be employed becomes especially frightening because it is uncannily plausible. Further, as Chaym Smith distances himself from the movement, the motivations of envy, fragmentation, and despair also combine into a character who does more than service the plot. The character of Matthew Bishop provides both a witness to the invented events and mirrors some of the reader’s likely emotions as they are drawn into the events of this fantastic dystopian inversion of history.