Ma Xiu Jia


It is hard to say what exactly is the most important characteristic of Wideman"s work. I have tried to demonstrate that Wideman, in his writing never really comes clean with his African American heritage. His heritage has, on the contrary, given rise to many of the major themes in his work. The black history of oppression and exploitation by whites has incited a slight resentment against whites, or, better, against power structures. This resentment is certainly strengthened by Wideman"s own encounters with the world of power. For example, according to Wideman, his brother"s trial appeared to had been judged upon before it was conducted: a young black ghetto slickster is "guilty on sight".

For Wideman, the ultimate root of all evil is greed; greed in the broadest sense of the word, a desire to possess Money, Power and Things. African Americans have been contaminated with this greed. Their entry into cities have made them susceptible to the processes of individualization threatening present day society (that is, in Wideman"s view). The blaring contrast between the two poles of American society, rich and poor, have filled them with a keen desire to be part of the first group. The lust for Money, Power and Things, awakened thus has led African American males to discard their fathers, who are the ultimate responsible for the hardships they have to go through in their struggle to wind up on the other side; the side where huge piles of Money, Power and Things are spread out for the taking.

Yet, the sons have seen their ill-fated struggles go to waste, they have given up dreaming and have fled, unable to face their fathers, and unwilling to look at the owners of the power. Eventually, the sons became fathers themselves. Only then were they confronted with the barren reality they had left in the wake of their flight. Their children have no breathing space in that reality. They have time nor place to dwell in the luxury of their childhood. Instead, they turn into small adults, and enact the same pattern their fathers have enacted one generation earlier. Merciless, they take without asking. Generations end up warring against each other and eventually destroy any possibility for future life.

Such is Wideman"s world-view, especially in the novel Philadelphia Fire. I have demonstrated, that the crime Wideman"s son committed caused such an inner torment within Wideman that he is no longer able to maintain the traditional modernist narrative. Instead, he resorted to the shower of images that marks postmodernism. The novel Philadelphia Fire ends with the bankruptcy of contemporary society.

I am happy to have chanced upon the works of John Edgar Wideman through my promoter, Dr. Bart Eeckhout. At the same time, I stand in awe for Joseph Conrad, who, born a Polish man, to a Polish family, where everybody spoke Polish, managed to acquire the magnificent English he has demonstrated in his novels and novellas.