Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Charlie Stevenson is a messenger both in occupation and in the metaphorical sense of someone who carries a warning to members of a society who refuse to attend to the needs of all citizens. He lives as an outcast in a culture unwilling to accept racial differences or differences of sexual orientation. His sense of being an outsider is especially acute because he is marginalized from mainstream society in many different ways. Charlie is a light-skinned African American. His racial identity is, therefore, often in question. “What are you, Puerto Rican or Filipino?” Charlie is asked by a man who picks him up while hitchhiking. “Neither,” Charlie answers. “I’m colored.”

Charlie’s sexual orientation adds to his sense of being an outsider. His sexual practices are ambivalent. At times he is pulled toward Shirley, a woman who wants a love relationship and, possibly, a marriage with him, but he also performs “tricks” with both men and women and with both white clients and African Americans. Because the novel is set before the sexual revolution of the late 1960’s, Charlie’s sexual practices deepen the theme of alienation from mainstream culture. His story is representative of those persons who do not act in a way that is considered to be normal by the majority group.

A member of the working poor, Charlie is an outsider in a society that often equates wealth with social standing. Although he is in a position to witness the...

(The entire section is 410 words.)