Max Reddick’s cry of “I am” echoes those of many characters in American literature, but as a black, male victim of racism, Max most notably echoes Richard Wright’s protagonists, Bigger Thomas and Cross Damon, and Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist of Invisible Man (1952). Like the last of those, Max is kept running, by racists and by his pride, but he runs on three continents. After decades of struggle and of growing success as a novelist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter, he sees, with his acute eye for the history that he hates, that his successes have been used by racists and have led him away from himself and to his destruction. In choosing his mode of destruction, however, he is finally able to be true to himself and to strike a blow against the enemies of his blackness and his selfhood. Sitting at the café at the opening of the novel, he knows that he exists because he hurts, physically and emotionally. At the end, on his way back to the café (but actually to his death), he is reminded by Saminone, a trickster figure but the voice of his honest if humbling historical black identity, that he is real.
Another device for characterization that Williams uses to make much the same point is Max’s love and loss of two women, one black and one white. In loving Lillian, rather than a white woman, Max affirmed his blackness and his freedom from the symbolic power of stereotyped white womanhood, but he also evaded the problems...
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