Benjamin “Chappie” Puttbutt represents a departure in characterization for Reed, whose protagonists are usually close to his own point of view. Puttbutt is very nearly Reed’s opposite in many areas: a conservative from a military family, opposed to multiculturalism, defending Western cultural values. Reed builds up readers’ sympathy for Puttbutt by making him the underdog but then undermines that sympathy when Puttbutt gains power. Puttbutt’s pacifism, which arises partly from chafing at the role his parents have chosen for him and partly from shock at his lover’s suicide while he is at the Air Force Academy, is shown to be mere capitulation to whoever is in power. The most subtly drawn of the characters in the novel, Puttbutt changes during the course of the book, learning how to rise above cultural parochialism. Nevertheless, the story leaves him just at the point of discovery of his limitations: His future is left open to question.
Ishmael Reed, the author appearing as a character in the novel, serves as a foil to Puttbutt—or vice versa. Their opposition is not antagonistic: Both are African American men of letters, both have been attacked by feminist groups, both are studying difficult foreign languages. Yet the differences are telling, and crucial to the plot: Reed has staked his career on a multicultural philosophy that Puttbutt has opposed as a threat to Western cultural values.
Dr. Yamato, who is first seen simply as Puttbutt’s Japanese instructor, is something of a...
(The entire section is 620 words.)