Wisdom From Kammbia Story Review 20: Occupying Arthur Whitfield by Charles Johnson

by | Mar 22, 2023 | Marion's Favorites, Marion's Reading Life Blog, Short Story Review, Wisdom From Kammbia Column, Wisdom of Kammbia Story Review | 0 comments

Charles Johnson came onto my reading radar for many years after I read his National Book Award-winning novel, Middle Passage. The novel told the story of Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who sneaks onto a slave ship heading back to the motherland to escape an arranged marriage. Johnson intertwined a slave narrative and sea voyage trope into an excellent, philosophical novel.

I found out a few months ago about his most recent short story collection, Night Hawks, that showcased a wide range of his stories. I have read several stories from Night Hawks and the story that has caught my attention the most was Occupying Arthur Whitfield.

Occupying Arthur Whitfield chronicles a young taxi cab driver named Antwon, who is picking up his last passenger of his work shift. He takes Arthur Whitfield, a tech engineer recently hired by Microsoft, to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport to catch a late night flight to Boston. Antwon tries to engage Mr. Whitfield with friendly banter and the passenger is having none of it.  The taxi cab driver takes offense to his passenger’s behavior and decides to break into his house while he is away in Boston.

Earlier in the day, there was an Occupy Seattle rally Antwon could not attend because he was working.  However, he was sympathetic to that cause and Mr. Whitfield represented the one percent the rally hated. Later that day, Antwon entered Mr. Whitfield’s home and found jewelry that provided him enough cash to live on for some time and something for his hard-working mother, too.

Antwon begins to leave the house and learns why Mr. Whitfield had to go to Boston. The attempted robbery becomes a valuable lesson in never judging someone by their first interaction with them.  Johnson flips the script in this story between the have and have nots, revealing a connection that is universal. Occupying Arthur Whitfield is a well-written short story that intersects race, class, and how life’s circumstances can change your perspective with someone that looks different from you.



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