Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336

Cleaver wrote this book in prison, and it was published in 1968. One of the themes of the book is his own radicalization and awareness of racial issues during his time in jail, which started in 1954. He started serving time one month after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education to outlaw segregated schools. At the time, he had little idea of the importance of the decision. He writes that following the Emmett Till case, he became aware of the way in which whites had "brainwashed" blacks (29), including in white values and standards of beauty.

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He also traces his psychological turmoil around white women and his understanding that he raped white women to avenge himself on the white race and their laws. Cleaver says he began to rape black women as practice before moving on to white women. He later realized what he was doing was wrong, and he turned to writing "to save myself" (34). He wrestles with his attraction to white women and his hatred of the way in which whites have indoctrinated blacks with their views.

In tracing the development of black consciousness in America, Cleaver speaks about the way in which whites were distanced from their physical selves while blacks, under slavery, were taught to embrace their physical bodies. As a result, Cleaver feels that whites have been turned into "Omnipotent Administrators" who have been de-masculinized, as opposed to the hyper-masculinized black ideal, which he calls the "Supermasculine Menial."

Another theme of this book is Cleaver's problems with women. In this pitched battle between whites and blacks, white women are regarded as pawns, claimed by white men as their prizes. Cleaver writes about the way in which a white prison guard tears a picture of a white woman off the wall of Cleaver's cell. Cleaver writes that black women are "Amazons" who are powerhouses, while white women are put on a pedestal. He calls white women a "cancer" that eats away at him (160). He hates his unwilling attraction to white women.

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Characters