Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355
The Spook Who Sat By the Door is a 1969 novel by Sam Greenlee. Four years after the book's publication, the story was turned into a film. Greenlee actually helped to write the screenplay for the film. The novel tells the fictional story of the first black CIA officer, Dan...
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The Spook Who Sat By the Door is a 1969 novel by Sam Greenlee. Four years after the book's publication, the story was turned into a film. Greenlee actually helped to write the screenplay for the film. The novel tells the fictional story of the first black CIA officer, Dan Freeman. The novel explains how
Freeman moved through Washington like an invisible man. He was an occasional, though not frequent guest at Georgetown cocktails parties for African diplomats. He was seldom invited to sit-down dinners, not because the Georgetowners objected to eating with Negroes—they all did it several times a year—but to save him the embarrassment of which fork and spoon to use for which course. His blackout from Washington black society, the most snob-ridden of a snob-ridden class in America, was total. It was as he wished. While Freeman could regard whites with a certain objectivity and controlled emotion, the black middle class and their mores sent him up the wall. (60–61)
This quote, from a third-person omniscient narrator, demonstrates the private thoughts of Freeman, who becomes the poster-child for blacks in Washington, while he harbors a deep-seated antipathy toward both whites and the black middle class.
One thing about Chicago, he thought; even in the ghetto there are trees and grass. He smiled to himself. That's supposed to make being black and poor all right. When Watts happened, all them white folks saying, "What they rioting for? Why, they got pal, trees in that slum!" A palm-tree-lined slum; it could only happen in America. (198)
This quote explains the novel's sense of place. It not only describes the setting in the way it was perceived by Freeman, it also explains the unique nuances of the black power movement there. The reference to the Watts riots (which took place in Los Angeles in 1965 and left dozens of people dead) also gives some historical and geographic context to the larger black power movement, in which Freeman plays such a powerful role.
While the novel traces the duplicity of Freeman, a committed and relentless guerrilla fighter, such attention to his ulterior motives renders him a sympathetic antagonist.