THE DANCING MASTERS describes the odyssey of Gene “Tiger” Bishop, a Korean war veteran haunted by the army’s cover-up of an ambiguous battlefield situation that led to the death of his best friend. He has been honorably discharged because he gave up his attempt to bring the truth out. He returns to the small South Carolina college he left two years previously because he was running away from a responsibility to a mill girl in the town who loved him. He finds that the girl has disappeared and gradually becomes aware as he emerges from the trauma of his experiences in Korea that what he has done to her is more reprehensible than what he did not do for his buddy. In the process of his attempt to find her, he discovers a secret from a deeper past that involves her–a secret that threatens the image of the town and the college. Though the truth about what happened to her and the sins of the past are covered up through the interactions of some of the people he encounters in his search, he does find her and the truth about himself in his journey toward moral insight and self-knowledge against a background of institutional and social hypocrisy.
The story is developed through several intertwining plot lines that unfold through the actions of multidimensional characters from various walks of life who are presented realistically in the light of their time and place. There are sensational elements in the plot–rape, adultery, pedophilia, madness, murder, suicide–as well as issues of gender and race. And there are a number of amusing segments in it, ranging from the satirical to the parodic and the broadly comic. But THE DANCING MASTERS is essentially a psychological novel, suggesting the various ways rationalization serves the needs of convention, image, and conscience as well as the capacity of the human spirit to overcome its inclination toward moral inertia and the duplicity that encourages it. These themes are reflected in the interactions of the characters who determine the course of the story.
The title is adapted from a line in Dostoyevsky’s THE IDIOT: “…grace and beauty come from the heart, not the dancing master.”
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