Reflex and Bone Structure Summary
by Clarence Major

Start Your Free Trial

Download Reflex and Bone Structure Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Reflex and Bone Structure Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The interrelationships of four characters are examined in this novel of discursive experimentation. The main protagonists of the novel are the narrator, Cora Hull, Canada Jackson, and Dale. Cora Hull is present during most of the action, which takes place primarily in New York City, with occasional trips to places such as the Poconos and New England. Since none of the trips is described in any detail, readers cannot be sure whether they really take place. The characters can travel as easily to the South Pole as to the neighborhood theater. The novel is written in the first person and in the present tense, which gives the narrator complete control over what takes place. In fact, the narrator tells readers that he is unreliable and consciously manipulating the text. He stresses the fact that he is simply an act of his own imagination. Because of the episodic, often contradictory form of the novel, a reader’s suspension of disbelief is challenged. There is little certainty about anything in this novel, which is one of the implied intents of the narrator, who often claims that forgetfulness or simple arbitrariness purposely alters the text.

There are, however, certain motifs that recur throughout the text that provide stable points of reference. The primary frame of reference is the narrator, who tells readers that he is writing a novel while he is writing it. The narrator comments continuously on the problems he has in constructing the text as a result of his own misinterpretations, his forgetfulness, his difficulty in describing how things appear or are, and his constant flights of fancy. All the other characters are at the mercy of the narrator’s whims. Thus, they at times are sent away or drop out of the action depending on the narrator’s moods. Often, the narrator will contradict himself or even blend himself into the other characters. While the activity of all four characters takes place in a skewed, apparently haphazard time frame, the story obviously centers around Cora Hull. Cora is presented in a variety of ways. At one time, she is studying feminist theory. Often she is appearing in a play, but readers learn little about the drama. Usually, she is presented in relation to one of the three other characters in an indeterminate time frame. Cora is the center of the novel, and all the other characters are redefined through her, but she too is endlessly mutable. Commonly, she is the locus of their sexual attention as well as a physical presence to which the narrator returns again and again.

Although Canada, Dale, and the narrator are fixated on Cora, none of them maintains any long-term relationships. They revolve around one another without really understanding one another. Their closeness is suggested by the interwoven repetition of their personal and sexual encounters, which are presented in matter-of-fact terms. The narrator claims they all have problems focusing on anything. At various times, they live either in the same apartment or in close proximity to one another. Much of the novel takes place inside apartments, in rooms ill-defined and vague. The narrator complains about this, claiming they stay inside with closed-in thoughts too much.

From the various locales mentioned, a reader can tell that the characters live in Manhattan. Cora is an actress often at rehearsals or trying out for plays. Dale and Canada have no known occupations, although they are associated with the theater as actors. The narrator at one point calls himself a theater director. They drift in and out of the timeless plot, sometimes threatening, sometimes friendly, but never really defined. Another recurring motif is a young Puerto Rican boy who wears a green shirt. The boy is seen everywhere and somehow has access to the apartments of the characters. He is mysteriously attracted to Cora and appears at regular intervals throughout the novel without altering the direction of action or having anything to do with the rest of the characters.

There are...

(The entire section is 1,442 words.)