Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Nothing much happens in any Holman story; the stories portray static situations. Like most minimalists, Holman is more interested in conflicts than in resolutions. He writes stories that symbolize characteristic human predicaments and contemporary social problems. He looks for the tiny details that convey meaning, such as the scuff marks made all over Sarah’s apartment by her irresponsible brother in the story “Scuff.” The most frequent theme in Holman’s stories is that contemporary African Americans in the South are uncertain about their identities and are tempted to regress to traditional ways of behaving.

The fact that Holman rarely mentions whether a character is white or black forces the reader to recognize unconscious racial stereotypes. Frequently the implicit meaning of a story is that there is no difference between people except skin color; it is as if Holman is saying, “Color is destiny.”

What is particularly significant about Holman’s short stories is that he has demonstrated how the techniques of minimalism can be applied to dealing with the experiences of African Americans. At the time of publication of Squabble, and Other Stories, he was the leading black minimalist author in the United States. His work has shown other African American writers that there are effective alternatives to literature of protest, which is belligerent, strident, and propagandistic. His stories provide striking contrast to the plays of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and the speeches of Malcolm X, for example, even though he is dealing with similar matters.