To The Editor:

My first impulse upon reading Milton Klonsky’s review of Lonely Crusade in the February COMMENTARY was to ignore it. Seldom has a calumny of this bitterness been published in a journal of COMMENTARY’s stature. But to ignore it might give rise to speculations that Mr. Klonsky’s comments have validity. I assure you, they have no validity.

The truth is that Mr. Klonsky’s comments evidenced a closer resemblance to hate catharsis than to literary criticism. While this might be permissible in a novel, giving to it an authenticity of emotion, it is intolerable in critical analysis. . . .

Reactions as expressed in Mr. Klonsky’s comments come only from subconscious disturbances within the individual. Lonely Crusade has touched upon such a disturbance in Mr. Klonsky’s personality to bring forth this geyser of vituperation. And that is as it should be; a catharsis of our prejudices off times effects the cure. However, it should not be presented as valid literary criticism. . . .

When Mr. Klonsky writes: “The professed purpose of these books is to prod the American public out of its apathy,” he is indulging in an even greater absurdity than the Communist perverters of literature. My purpose in writing Lonely Crusade was to create a novel out of the theme of one man, a Negro, searching for manhood. I had no other purpose; I endeavored to argue no point, grind no axe. The search of this man, Lee Gordon, for manhood is the lonely crusade. This story could have been written about a Jew, a Gentile, a Chinese, an Indian. It was written about a Negro. . . .

The situations which arise in the narrative do not even begin to encompass the daily brutalities suffered by most American Negroes. It is not intended that they should. Protest against racial injustice was not my principal objective. If such protest is not implicit in my delineation of the destruction of the human personality by oppression, there is no greater protest I can make.

As a Negro, my protagonist, Lee Gordon, is the victim of oppression. The impacts of this oppression generate within him many self-destructive forces—fear, insecurity, anti-Semitism, color psychosis, etc.; in his search for manhood these forces comprise psychological barriers which he must overcome. The fact that he is able to, and does in fact overcome these barriers, should have an inspirational value to all who are oppressed. That was my aim, to inspire those who, like myself, are exposed to the self-destructive forces of oppression, who must continuously and valiantly struggle against acceptance of inferiority; to impart to them, and to myself, the knowledge “that we can, when the occasion calls for it, fight and die for a cause that is greater than any one life, or any one man, or any one group of men.”

Chester Himes
Bronx, New York



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