Reflex and Bone Structure Characters
by Clarence Major

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

There are no characters as such in this experimental novel. The reader is given very little reliable information about the four people mentioned in the text, Cora Hull, Canada Jackson, Dale, and the narrator.

Cora Hull is at the center of the novel; the other characters, including the narrator, are usually described in relation to her. Cora may have been killed at the beginning of the novel. Therefore, the rest of the novel may be looked at as an attempt to explain and define Cora’s life. The short, episodic quality of the text includes many intriguing and sometimes contradictory descriptions of Cora.

Cora is presented in many moods and in many ways. Her life, however, does not seem to have a center or a definitive purpose. At one moment, she is a beginning actress who tries out for Off-Broadway shows. Later, she is described as being a famous actress. She is also described, variously, as a member of a black revolutionary group, a member of a white revolutionary group, and a feminist. Cora is a complicated character described in fleeting images that do not give a complete picture of her.

All three of the other characters, including the narrator, are described in relation to Cora. Canada, Dale, and the narrator are suitors of Cora, but none has any lasting relationships. These characters are also described in images that give impressions but form no clear picture. All the characters are in a constant state of flux, never staying in one place long enough to be fully described or analyzed.

The most interesting aspect of this experimental approach to characterization is the relation of the narrator to the text and to the other characters. The narrator informs readers early in the book that the other characters are under his control. The narrator confesses to being unreliable, forgetful, and absentminded. The use of fantasy and surreal episodes springing from the narrator’s imagination makes the characterization even harder to analyze. Also, the narrator confesses to being in love with Cora. As he is presented as one of three suitors to Cora’s affections, the way he describes Cora may be attributed to his jealousy or to his feelings of inferiority.

This nontraditional use of character description and motivation makes for an intriguing fictional presentation. The whole question of narrative control through the process of naming and describing is examined. Furthermore, the main character becomes the narrator; since he is writing the novel, his freedom of perception affects the way the novel is understood.

Major’s use of characterization in Reflex and Bone Structure forces readers to reexamine received notions of fictional presentation. The abstract flow of words functions nonrepresentationally on the page, in much the same way that abstract painting forces the viewer to see the paint before the image. In this sense, the book’s characters are more poetic constructs than realistic presentations.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, who functions as a screening device for the novel as well as being a primary character. Although nameless and never described, the narrator self-reflexively manipulates the plot and characters of this episodic novel. Through repeated references to the act of writing, the narrator playfully deconstructs the text while in the process of composing it. The narrator is whimsical, forgetful, and unreliable. The...

(The entire section is 846 words.)