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Last Reviewed 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.


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Last Reviewed 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...

(The entire section contains 564 words.)

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