The Flagellants is the story of the romantic relationship between Ideal and Jimson. After a brief prologue establishing Ideal’s childhood connection to a black community called “the Bottom,” the novel unfolds as a series of arguments between the couple, representing the historical gender conflicts between black men and women.
The first chapter introduces Ideal, who huddles alone on the bed in a dingy New York City apartment she shares with Jimson. Her mind weaving a frantic interior monologue, Ideal attempts to come to terms with her deteriorating relationship with Jimson. Troubled because she is unable to do anything but sit around each day waiting for his return, Ideal takes her anger and frustration out on Jimson. On their way home from the local bar, the ongoing quarrel about why their relationship is a failure explodes into a public spectacle, with Ideal climbing onto an overturned trash can and publicly denouncing Jimson for failing to live up to his own goals as an artist. Jimson has betrayed both of them, Ideal drunkenly announces, because he has not been working on his poetry and is having an affair.
Jimson enters into the verbal sparring match, accusing Ideal of setting up standards that no man could fulfill and thus causing her own unhappiness. Later he tells Ideal that if she ever calls him a “black dog” again, or reminds him of his race, he will use violence against her. Jimson then recounts the story of his...
(The entire section is 593 words.)