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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Child of Rage

cover image By: Thompson, Jim (male)
Publisher: Lancer Books (75342)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 836: PS3539 .H6733 C44 1972
Contributor: R. Farrell


Era: 1960s Author as on Cover: Jim Thompson Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1972  |  Original Date: 1972 Setting: urban Motives: although no killings occur apart from the accidental death of a neighbor's baby, Allen's motive for his actions is ultimately love. By inflicting pain and punishment on people, Allen sees himself as doing the job of God/Jesus, saving people by hurting them in symbolic ways.

Plot Summary

Allen Smith, the main character, is the eighteen-year-old black son of a high-class white prostitute. Expelled from military school, he is brought by his mother to New York City where he lives with her in an expensive, mostly white apartment building to finish high school. Allen is an incredibly smart young man and uses his intellect to construct highly intricate misanthropic projects aimed at exposing the hypocrisy, conformity and mediocrity of those he targets. However, beneath this misanthropic attitude is a philanthropic love for humanity: Allen's violence, cruelty and hatred are given Christ-like characteristics by Thompson and we see Allen's actions, which at first seem to be acts of revenge for what he sees as an unjust personal fate, as ultimately redemptive of those whom he affects. Central to the novel are issues of race, sexuality, and existential questions of identity and self.

Major Characters

Allen Smith black son of a white prostitute. His mother has never told him she's a prostitute. Allen suffers from a profound Oedipal complex, deliberately and subtly created in him by his physically and psychologically abusive mother.

Mary Smith mother of Allen; high-class prostitute on "the circuit," an organization of prostitutes organized by the Mob. As a white prostitute in the late 1960s, she is one of the few of her status to be an "Afro-American specialist." Mary had Allen when she was a teenager and resented his birth (her mistake) as well as his race from the beginning. She is still not sure who the father is. When raising Allen, she did certain things to him to instill in him a reversion for women other than herself in order to thereby deny herself to him.

Josie Blair black daughter of a white cop. Josie's mother was a black housekeeper who lived with a white police officer and eventually became pregnant by him. Josie is an intelligent high school student and keeps her bi-racial identity hidden. She falls for Allen despite his obnoxious behavior towards her, is set up for a fall by Allen, and is eventually reconciled with him.

Mr. Blair detective sergeant; protective father of Josie. Mr. Blair witnesses Allen accidentally overturning a baby carriage which results in the death of a neighbor's baby and he is able to protect Allen from charges.

Steve and Lizbeth Hadley incestuous brother and sister from an upper middle class black family. Steve and Lizbeth strive to be white and look down upon blacks they perceive to be below their own station. Knowing that Allen has a white mother, they try to cultivate his friendship, a "friendship" which results in the exposure of their incestuous habits to their father.

Dr. S.J. Hadley adult male, father of Steve and Lizbeth Hadley. Resentful of his wife, whose surgical skills and deference allowed him to become a successful doctor, he has psychologically destroyed her over the years of their marriage.

Dan Rafer "Doozy," black male student at Allen's high school. Holds somewhat confused 'black power' beliefs and is set up for a hard fall by Allen.

Paul Velie adult male, principal at Allen's high school. Has an affair with Josie Blair that leads to a serious beating.


none, though Allen does occasionally use a razorblade to protect himself.

Level of Violence

quite violent; physical, psychological and sexual violence permeate the novel.


sexuality is a major part of the novel; Allen's mother is a prostitute, the Hadley siblings are engaged in an incestuous relationship, and Allen is sexually abused by his mother. Josie is introduced to sex in the course of the novel and has an affair with Mr. Velie, the school principal. In one scene, a group of black homosexuals from the Village are subject to a plot set up by Allen that results in their hospitalization. The Oedipal theme is explored throughout the book.

Gender Roles

not so important, although the question of parenting does come up. The most that is said about gender is in the relationship between S.J. Hadley and his wife who was actually a better surgeon (though only a nurse) than he was when he began his practice.


one of the major themes in the novel. The two central bi-racial characters, Allen Smith and Josie Blair, seem to represent a sort of synthesis of knowledge that results in truth, as opposed to merely black or white. However, race in itself is a major issue of the novel.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

used by Allen as a means of making people less inhibited about exposing their true natures. Allen gets the Hadley siblings drunk and secretly photographs them in an incestuous act in order to expose them.

Law Enforcement

one character is a cop; racism amongst police officers is mentioned.

Added Features

the explicit association of Allen Smith with Christ is unusual and provocative, giving the novel a semi-surreal character. The objects of Allen's attacks are made to correct their behavior by being subject to some sort of pain or humiliation.

Subject Headings

Prostitutes/ New York (N.Y.)/ African-Americans/ Adolescence

Psychological Elements

psychosexual issues are prevalent; questions of existential 'authenticity' are a major subtext.