James D(ouglas) Forman Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

James D(ouglas) Forman 1932–

American young adult novelist and nonfiction writer.

Forman is often concerned with social issues in his young adult fiction; racism, ecology, and war are among the subjects he has explored. Forman is considered one of the major war novelists writing today for his uncompromising presentation of the realities of war. Using present and past conflicts in Germany, Greece, Ireland, and the Middle East, he impresses upon his readers the futility of war. Forman's most successful works realistically examine the reactions of people caught up in the death and destruction of war, focusing especially on young adults who are forced into maturity by events beyond their control. Although his young heroes and heroines feel horror, disgust, and fear, they act with unfaltering strength and honor. Loyalty, courage, and the value of friendship and human life are important elements in Forman's studies of the stresses of war.

Forman's highly-acclaimed novel Ceremony of Innocence deals with the conflict between state and individual—whether or not to fight for one's convictions in opposition to government. Based on actual events, Ceremony of Innocence is the story of a brother and sister who are executed for distributing subversive pamphlets in World War II Germany. Praised as juvenile fiction at its best, the novel sensitively and honestly portrays the protagonists's dilemma. The question of human rights is considered in a different light in Song of Jubilee. Although this novel is similar in many respects to William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, the differences are striking. Whereas Styron's hero is illiterate and rebellious, Forman's black protagonist is literate but seems afraid of freedom and decides to remain with his master. While some critics are disturbed by Forman's characterizations, others feel he successfully portrays the demoralizing effects of slavery on both blacks and whites.

Forman is also a practicing attorney and has written several books outlining the history and development of various political systems, including Nazism, anarchism, and communism. Forman concentrates on the relationship between government and the people, relating his material in easily understandable prose. These books are generally well received as excellent introductions for adolescent readers. Nonetheless, Forman's reputation as a writer rests on his young adult fiction and the values he stresses in these works. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)