Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Trey Ellis, like Dewayne Wellington, attempts to write a new kind of fiction about African Americans. Ellis himself calls this style the “New Black Aesthetic,” an attempt to refine and revise the African American view of art. He also takes his characters into a world where mingling across class and race boundaries is nothing new. Platitudes builds on the foundation laid by earlier black writing to express a vision of a black urban life that is as comfortable with black tradition as with mainstream ideas of achievement and success.

Earle and Dorothy are urban African Americans who happily exist integrated with mainstream urban society. Although not ashamed of their race, they both pursue success as defined by mainstream values, Earle looking toward the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dorothy toward business school and a well-paid executive position. They move effortlessly between the black world of their families and the mixed-race milieu of the private-school scene.

Another way that Ellis tries to create a new kind of black novel is by using experimental writing techniques. Ellis takes his narrative beyond the traditional realistic form and style of black fiction into a playful and eclectic postmodernism. Along with the romance of Earle and Dorothy comes the second-level encounter of authors Dewayne and Isshee, which complicates the realism of Earle’s story. In addition, Ellis uses various satirical lists...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Generally speaking, Platitudes is about love, trust, and the trials of growing up. Earle’s struggle to make friends, his teenage sexual fantasies, and his dismay at this mother’s nagging are familiar elements of contemporary adolescence. So are Dorothy’s mixed feelings about her mother’s unglamorous business, her hopes of escaping poverty and its restraints, and her conflicting desires for romance and glamor. Other issues under examination include Dewayne’s emotional problems as he moves past the resentment of his divorce and Isshee’s tendency to have adversarial relationships similar to those she depicts in her novels.

On one level, this is a straightforward story of boy meets girl and the difficulties that arise when people with complex lives and conflicting desires begin to move toward one another. Romance requires obstacles, whether poverty and venal landlords or ex-wives and competing careers, and the fact that one of these couples is inventing the other two can be read simply as an elaborate courtship ritual.

Platitudes can also be read as a dialogue among different ways of representing, perceiving, and experiencing life for and by African Americans. The fact that most of the characters in Dewayne’s novel ignore or actively reject their identities as African Americans is not an oversight on Trey Ellis’s part. This indifference is consistently contrasted with Isshee’s almost obsessive glorification of...

(The entire section is 463 words.)