(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The seventeen essays collected in Soul on Ice contribute to the long tradition of prison writing. In the first essay, “On Becoming,” Eldridge Cleaver recalls his earlier association in Soledad prison with angry young blacks who “cursed everything American.” His reading of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and the writings of Vladimir Ilich Lenin convinced Cleaver of the nearly universal confusion that ruled in the realm of political and social affairs. Cleaver became an iconoclast who took the writings of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechayev (1847-1882) as his guide to political life.

Following his release from Soledad, Cleaver became obsessed with “The Ogre,” or the white woman, cultivated an image of himself as an outlaw, and committed rape as an “insurrectionary act.” Imprisonment at Folsom forced him to look at himself and to write to save himself. “I had to find out who I am and what I want to be, what type of man I should be, and what I could do to become the best of which I was capable.” Soul on Ice, then, among other things, is a discovery of identity.

Three decades after their writing, most of the essays retain considerable power. “The White Race and Its Heroes,” for example, offers penetrating insights into race relations in “schizophrenic” America, although its vision of a world revolution led by people of color turns out to have lacked prescience....

(The entire section is 413 words.)