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Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2002
13 Seiten, Note: A- (USA = 1)
1. Walter Mosley – the author
2. A short synopsis of RL’s Dream
3. The narration and the blues
4. Characters in RL’s Dream
4.1. Kiki Waters
4.2. Atwater 'Soupspoon‘ Wise
4.3. Mavis Spivey
The aim of this paper is to encourage reflection on Walter Mosley’s RL’s Dream. In the first part, I will briefly present the author of the novel because I believe that it is crucial to know the background of an author to fully understand his work. Walter Mosley, himself, is a person of mixed parentage – just as the character of Randy. In his early childhood Mosley might have struggled to find his identity – a topic, which is also very present in RL’s Dream.
I will then give a short synopsis of the novel in the second section before outlining the particular style of narration Mosley uses and its relation to the blues.
The main part of this paper deals with characterization. I will take a closer look at Kiki Waters, Atwater ‘Soupspoon’ Wise, Mavis Spivey, Randy and Chevette. All of the major characters suffer from some kind of problem that has mainly to do with their experiences of the past. I will shed light on the characters and point out their particular problems. I will analyze the causes and attempt to interpret the character’s behavior.
Walter Mosley was born on January 12, 1952, in Los Angeles, California. His father LeRoy, a school custodian, was an African-American from the deep South, and his mother Ella, a school personnel clerk, was a white woman of Jewish descent whose family emigrated from Eastern Europe. This unique African-American/ Jewish heritage made prejudice a major topic in the household. An only child, Mosley grew up hearing about the woes of life for African-Americans in the South, as well as the horrors of anti-Semitism across the Atlantic.
After earning a bachelor's degree at Johnson State College in 1977, Mosley drifted for a number of years in various jobs, even working as a potter and caterer. He and his white Jewish girlfriend Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer, moved to New York City in 1982 and were married in 1987. Mosley settled down into a career as a computer programmer in the 1980s, but his work left him unfulfilled. He became a full-time writer in 1986.
Mosley is the author of fourteen books and several other publications and his work has been translated into twenty-one languages. (The German title of Mosley’s novel RL’s Dream is “Mississippi Blues“ – a rather good translation since the German-speaking audience might not be familiar with the abbreviation RL and Robert Johnson’s music). Walter Mosley is best known for the “Easy Rawlins” mystery series, beginning with Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. However, Mosley considers himself not so much a mystery writer but a novelist whose work includes mysteries. In 1995, W.W. Norton published Mosley’s blues novel RL’s Dream to critical acclaim. It was a finalist for the NAACP Award in Fiction and won the 1996 Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award.
Mosley's 1995 novel, RL's Dream, marked a departure from the “Easy Rawlins” mystery series. This novel tells the story of Atwater "Soupspoon" Wise, an aged and dying blues guitar player who is facing eviction from his New York apartment and his emerging friendship to Kiki Waters. Kiki, a volatile young white woman with a strong taste for alcohol, finds Soupspoon, sick in fouled clothing, sitting in his armchair on the street in front of his Greenwich Village apartment building. She takes him in, nursing him back to health and forging the necessary health insurance information to get him treated for cancer. The two form a strange friendship; both are from the South, and both have left behind pasts that demand to be dealt with. Soupspoon longs to relive his glory days, and recalls to Kiki about his struggles with racism and the time he played with a legendary Delta blues singer named Robert Leroy (RL) Johnson. As their friendship develops, the two share their individual stories, relive the pain of the past, and learn to heal their emotional wounds. They cling together, these two outcasts from hard times, Soupspoon with a gentleness born of deep resignation, Kiki with a protective desperation fueled by booze and rage. Gradually, Soupspoon's life begins to mend: someone he knew as a kid in the South offers him a gig at his after-hours drinking place and a pretty young girl is drawn to his sweetness. But for Kiki, the only way out is through violence and flight.
Walter Mosley narrates RL's Dream with compassion and empathy whilst always avoiding easy sentimentality. He delivers the narrative with a strong, hypnotic rhythm that carries the story along in a fluid motion. Mosley's use of time and place moves the action from present day New York to the rural poverty of the Mississippi Delta of the 1920s. He integrates Soupspoon's and Kiki's past harsh lives and memories with the keenly observed contemporary New York slum scene as the bittersweet blues constantly sound somber chords beneath. The story moves quickly from reality to dream and memory and back again. The overall effect is to give the book the rhythm and feeling of the blues itself. In a way, Mosley puts the blues down onto paper. RL's Dream can be seen as a meditation on the meaning of the blues and of its continued place in the darker corners of modern America.
Atwood “Soupspoon” Wise and Kiki Waters, two very different characters – one young, white, angry, and on the run from bad memories of her past, the other old, black, world weary, and living on his memories of playing with legendary bluesman Robert ‘RL’ Johnson – offer one another an opportunity to sort through their pasts and to reconnect with their emotional selves. Sharing one's pain, whether through music or words or love, can keep the demons at bay, at least momentarily. And that is exactly what the blues does: it shares one’s pain with other people. Soupspoon describes RL’s music as follows: “Robert Johnson’s blues would rip the skin right off yo‘ back. Robert Johnson’s blues get down to a nerve most people don’t even have no more.“ The blues hurts but it hurts in a good way; it shares hurtful feelings with others in order to ease the pain. The story told in RL’s Dream is hard and sad, beautiful and funny and full of interesting characters – much like a good blues song.
In 1998, however, Walter Mosley said in an interview, that RL's Dream is not so much about the blues and music as it is about the ‘blues sensibility’. “It's about Mavis Spivey painting her whole house white and mourning the loss of her child, you know, fifty years after the kid is dead. That sensibility, when accented with the blues, is alienation.“
In the following section of this paper I will look at the major characters in Walter Mosley’s RL’s Dream in order to understand this particular sensibility.
The various characters in Walter Mosley depicts in RL’s Dream are definitely worth reflecting on. All of the main characters have some kind of serious problem. RL’s Dream takes place in the 1990s in New York City, a time and place that contemporary American readers can easily relate to, but these people described in the novel are not like anybody I know or I have ever met. I cannot imagine their lives and this makes it difficult for me to identify with them.
The first question that might arise about Kiki is why she invited Soupspoon to live with her in her apartment. Before she found him on the street she barely knew him. She saw him sitting on a box in front of his apartment every now and then and they would say Hi to each other. When Soupspoon asks her why she has taken her in, she only replies that one day,
when Kiki came by with a friend of hers and both of them weren’t doing too well, he had told
them a few words of comfort that immediately made the girls feel better. Kiki has never forgot this incident. But is this enough for a young woman to accommodate a sick and smelly old man at her house? With her tough street smarts, she stops the eviction cold, bathes and feeds him, uses her office know-how to fake lavish health insurance for Soupspoon and moves him in with her.
Kiki has been seeing Randy. He is in love with Kiki and wants to marry her but Kiki keeps on rejecting him. It seems like Randy has become even less important to her since she has taken Soupspoon in. She gets mad at Randy and sends him away when he left his work and skipped his classes only to help Kiki move Soupspoon to the hospital. When he comes over to her apartment one night to see her she also sends him away with the excuse that he has to wait until she and Soupspoon get better. It seems like Kiki has further pushed away Randy to trade her relationship with him for affection for Soupspoon.
In the beginning of the novel, Kiki Waters seems like a decent person. She is a young woman, who has an apartment of her own, who has a (rather loose) relationship with a man that loves her and who has a job that pays well enough to provide for her living. Even though we know that she is conscious of her surroundings and willing to help others (she got stabbed trying to help a woman who got attacked by a number of black gang boys) I don’t think this explains her going as far as taking the old man in at her place.
Kiki seems to be need of some human affection. But why can’t Randy give her what she needs? Kiki is having nightmares and seeks refuge in alcohol (she can hardly fall asleep without having drunk before). When Soupspoon rejects to sleep in the same bed with her, she tells him that she is lonely and scared. Kiki’s father has been on her mind every mind of her life – and she hated him. He complained about how much it costs to keep her sick aunt Katherine alive just to make her feel bad. Kiki needs to get away from the memories of her past, of her abusive family and maybe taking in Soupspoon makes up for her father not wanting to accommodate Katherine.
But for Kiki, the only way out is through violence and flight. Even though she warmly welcomes Soupspoon in her home she hits him several times. She hits him because he had fallen asleep on his drugs forgetting that his tea water was boiling on the stove; and she hits him when he comes home late one night from Rudy’s nightclub without leaving a note. She was afraid that he would be gone forever. But Soupspoon forgives because he knows that she is a good person.
However, with the chapters going by, the reader learns that Kiki is a very shattered person. She is a girl of the South where her brutalizing parents destroyed her live. She deeply hated her mother and her father abused her in one of the cruelest ways. Hattie and Hector were the only ones that helped Kiki in her despair and helped her to get away from this real nightmare. She had to flee from her parents’ house when she was still very young. She left her home with no self-respect; and she went off trying to find it. Her cruel childhood is a detail in Kiki’s life that marked her tremendously and she often thinks back to it.
 The whole interview can be found at http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/walter_mosley.shtml .
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