My Amputations Summary
by Clarence Major

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My Amputations Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

My Amputations is a postmodernist experimental novel that combines picaresque and bildungsroman techniques in a story about Mason Ellis and his search for an African American identity. Written in short episodes, the novel narrates the escapades of Mason from child to Air Force serviceman to hoodlum and bank robber and then to lecturer. His ultimate con is to receive $50,000 a year from the Magnan-Rockford Foundation. The novel is a complex blend of Mason’s past with his dreams and hallucinations. Fragments of his own novel are interjected into a narrative unreliably presented by a nameless narrator. Mason’s mental state suggests paranoid schizophrenia, as he constantly fears an unnamed conspiracy organized by the System.

Mason is the son of Melba, a light-skinned black woman, and Chiro, a hard-living black man. Mason’s youth in Chicago is troubled, and he has a fantasy existence with his muse, Celt CuRoi, perhaps a derivation of his mother’s partial Irish ancestry. Mason suffers episodes of racial bigotry in the service. His apprenticeship as a writer starts conventionally, as he imitates white writers such as Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway and black writers such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and James Baldwin. After the service, Mason moves back to Chicago’s South Side, marries, has six children, and separates from his wife. Mason and a woman named Painted Turtle move to New York City and turn to a life of crime.

Mason claims that another man, possibly the Author, stole his manuscript. This same man has taken the name Clarence McKay to hide his identity. Mason kidnaps Clarence McKay and, with three others, robs a bank. After the robbery, Mason assumes the identity of the Author and claims the Author’s fellowship money. The reader is never sure if this Author is Clarence McKay, Mason himself, or the author of the novel being read. Mason lectures at colleges and universities in the United States, Europe, and Africa. Lovers and friends from the past appear briefly in the second half of the novel, but only as hallucinations. Each episode describes drinking, eating, and sexual escapades connected to his lecture tour. At different lectures, Mason reads from his work in progress. Wherever Mason lectures, violence breaks out. In London, he escapes a bomb explosion in the tube station. In Berlin, people standing at a bus stop are blown to pieces. Later, in Berlin, he is kidnapped by a neo-Nazi group, and in Italy, he is arrested and beaten by the police for being an arsonist. In each instance, alcohol is involved, the actual facts of the incident are confused, and Mason is miraculously rescued by his friends.

In Nice, Mason becomes anxious about his great deception as the Author and fears a conspiracy against him. He goes to a detective fiction conference and voices questions about fog, confusion, and contradictions. These questions mirror others raised in the novel concerning truth, fiction, and the nature of reality. Mason’s quest for his identity disintegrates into hallucination. He imagines that he sees old criminal friends from his past, and then Clarence McKay attacks him on the beach with a pistol. Mason is incapable of balancing his criminal past with his current masquerade as the black Author. He imagines that he is pursued by detectives sent by the mysterious foundation that funds his fellowship. Mason descends into paranoid frenzy as he travels through Italy and Greece. Finally, he is sent an envelope by the foundation and is told to deliver it to an African chieftain in Ghana. Mason locates the village and, in the middle of the...

(The entire section is 874 words.)