Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The point of James Alan McPherson’s story is quite clear. Rodney is a seriocomic version of the black man who has so assimilated himself to the white man’s values that he feels cut off from his racial culture. However, rather than wanting to return to that culture, he condescends to it even as he believes that he must gain some of its external manifestations as a way of becoming accepted in the white man’s world. Thus, the story is an irony-within-an-irony. Rodney is a bigot both to whites and to blacks, at times hating everyone, bouncing back and forth between two value systems. The metaphor he uses is that of a coin spinning inside his brain. Sometimes it lands heads up, signifying an affinity toward someone, sometimes heads down, signifying distaste. He refuses to dislike anyone absolutely because he believes that such would be uncomfortably close to bigotry.

Rodney has this double attitude toward Willie, toward Lynn, toward Charlie Pratt—indeed, toward everyone in the story. When he loses the argument with Charlie, the coin spins in his mind faster and faster until it stops on that side where he keeps his bigotry almost locked away. Rodney does not try to learn black slang and acquire street knowledge simply to impress his friends; McPherson’s irony and satire of the middle-class black situation cuts deeper than that. Rodney both wants and does not want to be black. He scorns blacks such as Willie even as he admires them. He envies Pratt for...

(The entire section is 426 words.)