Nathaniel Witherspoon is the central character in the novel, which chronicles the Witherspoon family as well as the neighborhood of Forest County. Nathan’s inward search begins as he sits in a Cadillac with Aunty Breedlove on the way to his mother’s funeral. In his late teens, Nathaniel is a troubled youth searching for meaning in his existence, torn in different directions by members of his family and the influences of life in an American city. Nathaniel’s journey transcends the bonds of time and space. The exploration of his consciousness reaches far back, to the memory of his grandfather, Jericho Witherspoon, who was born a slave. It also reaches to his immediate future, when he attends college. It is through his consciousness that the voices of the past speak as he weighs the lives and influences of his ancestors against the troubles of the present. Nathaniel’s own development is illustrated through a number of vignettes that show his attachment to as well as conflict with his family. His father is strongly outlined in the first part of the novel. As a man who works as a cook, he is considered to be a failure by the more successful Dupont side of the family. Nathaniel recognizes his father’s appreciation of the small wonders of life; that appreciation influences Nathaniel to develop his own poetic strengths.
The Duponts provide a more sinister influence. The family has made a fortune on skin-bleaching cream. Nathan feels the pull of their mercenary power. In the end, the voices of his ancestors who struggled out of slavery and built a community enliven his spirit and point the...
(The entire section is 655 words.)