Reading: Real Imaginary Lines in "The Secret Integration"

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Real Imaginary Lines in "The Secret Integration"

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Robert Holton

Okanagan University College
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Abstract

In "The Secret Integration" (1964), some middleclass white boys find themselves one night in the hotel room of a black man, the first they have ever met. Carl McAfee is a homeless jazz musician, alcoholic and broke – an exemplary figure of Beat mythology. The stories he tells them about his life and loves, his travels and adventures, his anguish and fear reveal to these kids from secure homes the outer limits of a world whose existence they had never suspected. "Tim's foot felt the edge of a certain abyss which he had been walking close to–for who knew how long? – without knowing. He looked over it, got afraid, and shied away" (SL 183). In his relation to these white boys, McAfee evokes a literary legacy traceable back to Huck's Jim and further. Exploration along the edges of America's racial boundaries has long been accepted as a part of white male coming of age; indeed, its ritualized function was clear to Leslie Fiedler, who observed that, "Born theoretically white, we are permitted to pass our childhood as imaginary Indians, our adolescence as imaginary Negroes, and only then are expected to settle down to being what we are told we really are: white once more" (134). Pynchon's story does more, however, than simply rehearse this quintessential American white male imagery as part of a coming-of-age tale. "The Secret Integration" calls attention to the racial taxonomy that makes this trope possible, examines the enculturation process by which this racial coding is inscribed as part of growing up white, and situates it at a historical moment when its conditions of possibility are being challenged.
How to Cite: Holton, R., (1997). Real Imaginary Lines in "The Secret Integration". Pynchon Notes. (40-41), pp.5–18. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/pn.160
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Published on 22 Sep 1997.
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