Deacon King Kong


James McBride

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Themes and Colors
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Race and Power Theme Icon
Community and Religion Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Deacon King Kong, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Substance Abuse

The novel’s title, Deacon King Kong, refers to the novel’s protagonist, an old deacon nicknamed Sportcoat. Like many residents of the Causeway Projects in South Brooklyn, Sportcoat is addicted to alcohol; his favorite beverage is a potent blend of moonshine known as “King Kong.” Sportcoat drinks so much that he often forgets significant moments in his life, including shooting a local drug dealer named Deems Clemens, an act which puts the rest…

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Race and Power

Race is omnipresent in Deacon King Kong. Set in the Causeway Projects of 1960s Brooklyn, the novel features a diverse cast of characters including African Americans, Latino people, Italian people, and Irish people. Although all of these people live in close proximity to one another, and although the story depicts plenty of friendships between people of different racial backgrounds, there is still great animosity between the various racial groups.. The primary tension in the…

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Community and Religion

The Five Ends Church, which is a central feature of the Causeway Projects, is characters’ primary source of social unity and cohesion. Although the church is, of course, a religious institution, the explicitly religious aspects of its teachings rarely enter into the minds of those who live in the Causeway Projects. However, the sense of community that the church creates, along with its general teachings about acting as a force for good in the world…

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Parental Figures and Masculinity

Parental relationships are a core feature of Deacon King Kong, and the novel highlights two such relationships in particular. The first is between Sportcoat and Deems. Sportcoat and Deems have a somewhat unconventional relationship because Deems is not Sportcoat’s son. Deems grew up without a father figure in his life, and so Sportcoat stepped in to fill that role. Sportcoat was Deems’s Sunday school teacher in church, and he taught Deems everything he knows…

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Love, Hope, and Redemption

Deacon King Kong is a fundamentally optimistic novel; it repeatedly depicts positive forces of love, hope, and redemption, even in the face of oppressive forces such as racism, drug addiction, and violence. The redemptive arc of Deems Clemens is the most obvious example of the book’s optimism. Deems began his life as a promising young baseball player. Sportcoat, his coach, believed the young man could play professionally if he put his mind to it…

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