A Visitation of Spirits is essentially a novel about homosexuality. Young Horace Cross finds himself irresistibly attracted to men and has been having one affair after another. He finds that his attraction to males does not recognize racial barriers; he has love affairs with virile white actors who are playing in summer stock in his rural area, and he prefers to associate with a group of rowdy young white males who are considered renegades and dropouts at his high school. Horace is exceptionally bright and has been getting top grades up until the time of this adolescent crisis. Now his grades have plummeted, and all of his relatives, including his doting grandfather, are pressuring him to change back into the polite, ambitious, well-behaved boy he had been.
Horace goes to his cousin, the Reverend Jimmy Greene, with his problem, asking him in confidence what he can do, if anything, to renounce his homosexual tendencies. Jimmy has been through the same crisis himself and is ashamed to discuss it openly. He simply tells Horace he will outgrow it. It becomes evident, however, that Jimmy himself has never outgrown his own homosexual proclivities and that denying them has turned him into a sort of spiritual and sexual eunuch. His failure to help Horace causes him to begin to reevaluate his entire life.
Jimmy serves as a foil to Horace, more or less the way Leopold Bloom served as a foil to Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses (1922). While Horace is wandering around town nearly naked, struggling with his repressed sexual desires, Jimmy is going through the motions of being a small-town preacher and interacting mainly with the older African Americans of the community. Through Jimmy’s eyes, the reader gets a thorough picture of the small-mindedness, the provinciality, and the xenophobia of the older...
(The entire section is 760 words.)