Propaganda as fiction: an explication of the works of Dotson Rader and Shane Stevens
Whitlock, Jerry Michael
Isle, Walter W.
Master of Arts
Dotson Rader's first book. I Ain't Marchin' Anymore (1969), is a partisan's account of the Columbia University student revolt. Rader's first novel, Gov't Inspected Meat (1971), is autobiographical, but the decade of the '6's and of student dissent looms large in the plot. Shane Stevens shares Rader's interest in the decade of the '6's and in political dissent, but he writes in his two novels about the despair and defiance of the black ghetto and of young black men in particular. Stevens' Go Down Dead (1969) is narrated by a sixteen-year old Harlem gang leader introduced in a violent struggle with a competing white gang and with his now emerging manhood. Way Up Town in Another World (1971) is narrated by Marcus Garvey Black, whose commentary on the American political and racial scene is bitter, acerbic, and largely unconvincing. The writing of Dotson Rader and Shane Stevens possesses one major flaw: the authors' concerns with didactic racial criticism becomes propagandist. Political aims supersede aesthetic considerations in the shaping of the novels. The consequences for the novels and for readers are severe. Technique is less important than the authors' political doctrines. The latter overwhelm character and plot, so that all characters speak with one voice, all plots plod through to a predetermined end. With Rader and Stevens this flaw is debilitating. Their novels cannot profitably be read; the message becomes the medium. Finally, the same propaganda emerges from different novels; the four works are a monotone, a single party line.