The Spook Who Sat by the Door

by Sam Greenlee
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Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

Spanning the 1950s through the 1960s, the novel addresses US politics and espionage through the lens of race. Showing how one man can become disillusioned by the pervasive discrimination within a social system, the author places Dan Freeman in two contrasting contexts: anonymous bureaucrat and fiery radical. The underlying idea is that Freeman sees himself as having been ill-used during his years with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because he is black. Although Freeman had an impressive military background, the CIA really had hired him in a pretense of diversifying. Instead of fully utilizing his talents or allowing him to reach his potential, they kept him in low-level positions. Freeman’s frustration leads him not just to quit the agency but even to turn to crime and rebellion.

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While trying to be an obedient intelligence agent, Freeman rails against the injustices that African Americans endure. Realizing that criminals are often created from such resentment, he approaches a Chicago urban gang and helps turn them into the Black Freedom Fighters. Eschewing pacifism, Dan’s group endorses violent tactics.

Dan’s ideological commitment cannot make the movement succeed. Rather, he loses his life in a struggle that seems to yield few positive results. Along the way, a rewarding personal life is likewise impeded; trying to rekindle an old flame, he finds that she has taken a mainstream route—what he sees as co-optation—and suggests he do likewise. From his old inner-city neighborhood, others have entered service professions, such as a policeman friend who must try to thwart the Freedom Fighters.

The author sets out many of the paradoxes in political activism as its proponents question the continuation of certain strategies in the wake of the repressive backlash. The era of assassinations of civil rights leaders is framed within widespread socioeconomic problems. Although Greenlee stops short of endorsing any single solution, he effectively challenges the effectiveness of violence, as it tends to perpetuate a violent cycle.

Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 240

The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee reveals the threats that the white American upper class experienced in the 1960s because of the imminent uprising by African Americans. The picture painted by Greenlee can be seen today with the middle class, which is gradually reducing in number. Today’s protests are not as violent; however, many people have expressed their concerns about the economy through mainstream and social media. The book reveals to the reader the effects of having a country with a huge economic divide, where only the rich and the poor exist. Moreover, the author gives vivid descriptions of police brutality against the oppressed, which is comparable to the instances of police violence that occur today.

The black revolution described in the book is similar to several movements today. For instance, #BlackLivesMatter has recently become a popular hashtag for protesting against police brutality. The only difference between the two movements is that one (the one depicted in the book) turned out to be violent, while the other used technology to create awareness. Nonetheless, both movements were used to make a statement against the oppression of black people.

Greenlee includes symbolism in his work. For instance, he names the main character Dan Freeman. His second name, Freeman, symbolizes his desire to live freely as a black man without being discriminated against. Freeman formulates a plan that will liberate his people from the current system of government.

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