Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The novel’s title, Seduction by Light, refers to Mamie’s philosophical understanding of what happens to filmgoers when they become engrossed in the lives of fictional characters on a screen. Mamie points out that film stars are, essentially, only shadows made out of light projected onto a blank screen. She connects the way audiences become absorbed in the light-induced illusion of life on the screen with the way people become so absorbed in the “reality” of their everyday lives that they cling to a world that is, from her point of view, no more meaningful than the world of sleep or dream.Pretty much every last one of us was out here gettin seduced. And by what? Nothin but light, not a thing but light quiverin and makin patterns on a screen. Now that I wasn’t worried about losin anything anymore, it was all startin to fall together.

Mamie’s awareness of the ephemeral, unreal, or absurd quality of life, as well as her faith in the pleasant feelings of weightlessness and brightness she has experienced in her out-of-body travels, allows her to convert depressing experiences into events indicating a promise of a better life. Mamie’s ability to overcome depression and loss through faith in a spiritual world after death, and her understanding of the interrelationship of all people on a spiritual plane, illustrate common themes in much of Al Young’s imaginative writing. Young has said that “man’s effort must be to locate the dance, the song, the rhythm of life even in the mortar and steel of urban living in modern America.” With her emphasis on the importance music has played in bringing people together to share a common story and common experience, Mamie, herself a blues singer whose first-person narrative is a sort of extended blues song, embodies Young’s message to his audience to locate “the rhythm of life.”

Young has also said that he thinks of love as the “ultimate expression of unity” and that God can be “encountered through love.” Mamie’s intense emotional and physical relationships with Burley and with Theo, as well as her concern for the well-being of her son, Benjie, and for Burley’s son, Kendall, illustrate Young’s theme of unity through love as Mamie consistently imbues her personal relationships with spiritual significance.