Themes and Meanings
Fear is the principal theme of the novel. From the first page—the nightmare sequence that structures the book, the war-effort atmosphere, and the accumulation of indignities—to the last page, Chester Himes reinforces this main idea: the psychological terrors of the black man trapped in a racist society and the brutalizing effects of those terrors will destroy him. Bob Jones is a victim of America’s double standards. What he wants to be is an effective leaderman and to live peacefully. He has been brought up to believe that every man in America can achieve these goals, but he cannot. Bob is blocked in every aspect of his life and is offered no chance to assert his identity. The nightmares through which he suffers each night are not different from the nightmare he suffers each day. His terrors stem from his lack of an identity and of a structure to shape and define his life. Bob’s only recourse is self-directed rage, for he will not seek accommodation with white society. Without a sense of purpose and a sense of understanding and support, Bob sees only the threat of continued failure. As he seeks to obliterate his pain and finds only helplessness, Bob Jones is reduced to a mechanical existence. For him there is no available bridge between black and white worlds. There is nothing to obviate the terror.