A Vision of Despair by
an Angry Black Writer:
and The Man Who Cried I Am
Max Reddick, the hero of John Williams's The Man Who Cried I Am, wants to complete the title by adding "a man," but his alter ego, Saminone (Sam-in-one), assures him that he is "a stone blackass nigger." In the novel Max lives for about thirty-six hours in the present, and during that time he relives his past life in an attempt to decide whether he is man or nigger.The conclusion he reaches, which is also the conclusion of the novel itself, is a sad one: rather than allow him to be a man, the white world will kill him and his kind in a complete holocaust of genocide. But even before the end Max knows he is already as good as dead, that the killing has been going on all of his life.At the core, then, this novel is the story of a lynching that took better than forty years to accomplish, but accomplished it was.
The aim of the white lynchers is the usual one: the victim's castration. It is quite obvious, therefore, that the emasculated Max Reddick has some important literary ancestors, one of whom is Jake Barnes in Hemingway's The Sun also Rises.But a comparison of the two shows fewer similarities than differences. The differences, however, are more important in illuminating Williams's basic attitudes toward the lynchers and the world in which both he and they must live. Barnes, like Reddick, knew all about the blackness of things in his emasculated state and was constantly seeking the light, but