The unnamed narrator is the elusive protagonist of this novel. Although the novel follows him through adolescence and young manhood, readers discover nothing about his sex life, apart from an allusion to someone he is not reconciled to losing and a reference to the nights of the wide bed, now over. Such evasions are characteristic of his presentation of self throughout the novel. If he seems in such respects to evade readers of the novel, it may be that he is following a project of evasion throughout the novel itself. As a young black man, he finds that others, black and white, are always ready to define him, and he is unwilling to live within the limits of other people’s definitions. He sometimes turns others’ compulsion to define to his own interest, as when he slips into a role prescribed by one of society’s scenarios, but he never commits himself to any role he tries on. Ironically, his determination to distance himself from stereotypes, for example by ostentatiously carrying a highbrow journal when he rides the subway, threatens to distance him as well from any possibility of developing an authentic self. His recognition of this irony and his acceptance of what his elusiveness may have cost him indicate the level of maturity he is approaching as the novel comes to an end.
What this narrator does best is observe, but his powers of observation are for some time baffled by his grandfather, who is second in importance only to the narrator himself...
(The entire section is 538 words.)