(Masterpieces of American Literature)

RL’s Dream opens with Atwater “Soupspoon” Wise, an old blues man, wracked with pain in his hip, his throat sore, making his way to his apartment in the East Village of New York City. Two young men come to evict Soupspoon, carrying him and his few belongings, including his red-enameled twelve-string Gibson guitar, out to the street.

As Soupspoon is being evicted, Kiki Waters, a twenty-something white woman from Arkansas, is on her way from the hospital to her East Village apartment, recovering from stab wounds inflicted by a black boy whom she stopped from attacking a schoolteacher. Randy, her sometimes boyfriend, helps her home.

At Kiki’s building, they find Soupspoon sitting on the street while men continue dumping his things. The pathetic sight of Soupspoon being treated with such disrespect infuriates Kiki, and she insists on taking him to her apartment, where she cleans him up and makes him tea, which he drinks while she eats and drinks whiskey.

The first three chapters introduce three of the main characters of the novel: Soupspoon, Kiki, and Randy, Kiki’s boyfriend who, with the help of his mother, has deceived himself into believing that he is not black. Race is a significant aspect of this novel. The other main character, who, although dead for fifty years and permeates Soupspoon’s existence and the novel, is RL Johnson, the famous Delta bluesman with whom Soupspoon traveled and played when he was young.

Although the novel is told primarily from the points of view of Soupspoon and Kiki, reminiscences and dreams of both Kiki and Soupspoon demonstrate how events in the past shape the present. These looks into the past allow Mosley to tell the story of the blues.

When young, both...

(The entire section is 721 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The gritty and lyrical RL’s Dream begins with a sentence that deftly evokes the agony and endurance of characters who experience the hurt that the blues expresses: “Pain moved up the old man’s hipbone like a plow breaking through hard sod.” This sentence serves as introduction to Soupspoon Wise, whose very body vibrates with the blues: “Music thrummed in his body; the rattles of death in the tortured song of his breathing.” Soupspoon is helpless—unable even to control his bowels because of his enormous pain, which is later diagnosed as a tumor pressing on his bones. Soupspoon perseveres in the face of this diagnosis, making it home only to discover that he is being evicted for failing to pay his rent.

Kiki Waters, a neighbor, intervenes, making a scene that results in her decision to take care of Soupspoon and to give him a bed to sleep in. Soupspoon wonders why this white girl is so concerned about him. Her explanation seems weak: He once offered an encouraging word to her and a friend during a down moment. The fact that this old man took an interest in two young girls profoundly impressed Kiki, however. She had run away from Arkansas, the victim of an abusive father and a docile mother, and she has apparently developed a fierce sense of justice that provokes her to defend those she deems under attack. Indeed, when she meets Soupspoon, she is recovering from being stabbed after coming to the assistance of a woman accosted by a...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Giddens, Gary. “Soupspoon’s Blues.” The New York Times. August 13, 1995. Giddens, an eminent music critic and biographer, writes a perceptive account of the novel, sometimes faulting Mosley for sentimentality.

Gussow, Adam. “’Fingering the Jagged Grain’: Ellison’s Wright and the Southern Blues Violences.” Boundary 30 (2003): 137-155. Although RL’s Dream is only briefly mentioned in this article, Gussow provides historical background essential for an understanding of Mosley’s work.

Levecq, Christine. “Blues Poetics and Blues Politics in Walter Mosley’s RL’s Dream.” African American Review 38, no. 2 (Summer, 2004): 239-256. Explores Mosley’s novel in relation to the history of the blues, as well as commenting on various reviewers who have praised and criticized RL’s Dream.

Mosley, Walter. “Anger and Hope Mosley’s Formula for Success.” Interview by Greg Burchall. The Age, January 31, 1996, p. 4. Interview with Mosley about his career, growing up in South Los Angeles, and his belief in the heroism of the black struggle. Mosley discusses the literary influences on his work and the process of drafting his novels.

Wilson, Charles E., Jr. Walter Mosley: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. Includes a discussion of RL’s Dream, exploring the novel’s treatment of the blues.