The Spook Who Sat by the Door is primarily a portrait of the complex personality of Dan Freeman, and his is the only fully developed character. A football star at Michigan State and a Korean War veteran, Freeman remains a product of the slums. During the CIA training, he sets himself defiantly apart from his fellow candidates, all bourgeois blacks: “Only Freeman was not middle class, and the others knew it. Even had he not dressed as he did, not used the speech patterns and mannerisms of the Chicago ghetto slums, they would have known.”
Freeman’s most significant skill is his chameleonlike ability to change his public persona to accomplish his purposes, becoming an unobtrusive middle-class African American while working for whites, Turk the warlord to gain the respect of the Cobras, and Uncle Tom the terrorist to frighten whites, all the while keeping his true identity to himself. His adoption of a down-home pose during the CIA training makes his black classmates consider him less of a threat to their plans for success. As for those judging the candidates, “Whitey will be more likely to ignore a nigger who approaches the stereotype than these others who think imitation the sincerest form of flattery.” His method works, as the director of the training school tells the general: “I somehow forgot that the man existed. He has a way of fading into the background. You can’t remember his face, or what he looks like, or what he has said, even minutes after you have spoken to him.”
The real Freeman prides himself on his intelligence and sophistication, exulting, when on his own, in his taste in literature, music, art, and clothes. While working for the CIA, he escapes to New York occasionally, shedding his Tom disguise for the trappings of a hipster. He had pondered the danger of leading a double life and decided that “the...
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