A Visitation of Spirits

by Randall Kenan

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

He had been created by this society. He was a son of the community, more than most. His season for existing, it would seem, was for the salvation of his people. But he was flawed as far as the community was concerned. First, he loved men; a simple, normal deviation, but a deviation this community would never accept. And second, he didn’t quite know who he was.

The central tension of the plot is family cultural inheritance, expectation and the individual. The weight of the past is a good anchor for the older generations, but a ball and chain for young Horace. The protagonist has what seems to be a modest but enviable position in his small rural black community. He comes from a well-known and respected family that have been pillars of the local church. Unfortunately for him, his sexual identity leaves no place for him to slot into this family culture. Even his less provincial older cousin is unable to help him in the end.

You’ve seen this [hog slaughtering], haven’t you?

For the older generations, descended from slaves and proud to be independent farmers, this knowledge of slaughtering the hogs and curing the tobacco has deep community significance that Horace needs to be aware of. They are a type of initiation into the local community. For a bright modern teenager yearning for a future beyond the limits of his humble rural inheritance, the old ways are an embarrassment: a reminder of a past that the young man can't relate to and wishes to soar beyond (the hawk imagery). He moves on from his nerdy high school friend to hang out with the wealthy white athletes. Eventually, a black actor confronts him with the knowledge that he is gay.

He suspected that his family might object to his action. But he had no idea they would pronounce treason and declare war. From top to bottom, uniformly, they condemned him. It was not the piercing of his ear, it was what it represented, they said . . . Them white boys done took a hold of your mind . . . Shames me to see you come to this.

The family unites in its rejection of the alien and unwanted orientation in a boy for which they had such high expectations. They blame outside forces and bad influences. This leaves Horace exposed in a way that he is unprepared to handle. His response to his failure to escape through a dark magic ritual is demon possession and the demons force him to confront the key points of his life that have led him to this seemingly hopeless impasse. The author is pointing out the struggle between the customs and inheritance of the Old South and how they interact with the aspirations of the New South. It is clear where he places his hopes, but a complete break with the past without an acceptance or mature reconciliation with the past can also lead to tragic outcomes, as the author is clearly aware.

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