In Six Degrees of Separation, a young black man named Paul educates himself in order to pull off a daring scam. He enlists the aid of a high-school friend and accumulates the addresses of a number of wealthy New York families. He becomes familiar with the names of family members, their possessions, and customs. He is trained by the friend, now a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to speak the language of the upper class. Fully armed with a knowledge of upper-class tribal customs and rites, he passes himself off as a friend of the families’ offspring enrolled at Ivy League universities.
Like Don Quixote of old, he sallies forth, but without the don’s ideals. He goes so far as to stab himself before intruding at the home of Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, sophisticated and affluent dealers of art. When he appears, he is bleeding, pleads having been robbed, and invokes friendship with their children, Tess and Woody, including knowledge of a “double” Kandinsky painting that hangs on their wall. He exudes the kind of charm, knowledge, and manners expected of a son of Sidney Poitier. His success consists of acquiring the facade of a member of the social tribe to which the Kittredges belong. Furthermore, he whets the interests of his victims by posing the possibility of their appearing in a new film his “father” is in New York to cast (Guare’s reinvention of a detail in The House of Blue Leaves) and by tales of...
(The entire section is 453 words.)