With The Tempest's Caliban, Shakespeare created an archetype in the modern era depicting black men as slaves and savages who threaten civilization. As contemporary black male fiction writers have tried to free their subjects and themselves from this legacy to tell a story of liberation, they often unconsciously retell the story, making their heroes into modern-day Calibans.
Coleman analyzes the modern and postmodern novels of John Edgar Wideman, Clarence Major, Charles Johnson, William Melvin Kelley, Trey Ellis, David Bradley, and Wesley Brown. He traces the Caliban legacy to early literary influences, primarily Ralph Ellison, and then deftly demonstrates its contemporary manifestations. This engaging study challenges those who argue for the liberating possibilities of the postmodern narrative, as Coleman reveals the pervasiveness and influence of Calibanic discourse.
At the heart of James Coleman's study is the perceived history of the black male in Western culture and the traditional racist stereotypes indigenous to the language. Calibanic discourse, Coleman argues, so deeply and subconsciously influences the texts of black male writers that they are unable to cast off the oppression inherent in this discourse. Coleman wants to change the perception of black male writers' struggle with oppression by showing that it is their special struggle with language. Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban is the first book to analyze a substantial body of black male fiction from a central perspective.