Study Guide

Robert Sterling Wilson in Mother Night

By Kurt Vonnegut

Robert Sterling Wilson

RememberUncle Tom's Cabin? It's Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel calling for an end to slavery. Why are we bringing this up here?

Well, Campbell uses a racial slur to describe what Wilson is not. For background info, read how we've Shmooped the character of Uncle Tom in Stowe's novel. In the meantime, keep in mind that being called an "Uncle Tom" is an insult: it implies that a black person is complicit in his or her own subjugation.

See, Wilson is Jones's driver, but he's also a traitor to the U.S. who defected to support the Japanese military in WWII. Here's Campbell's description of the guy:

There was no Uncle Tom in this cotton-haired old colored man. He walked in arthritically, but his thumbs were hooked into his Sam Browne belt, his chin was thrust out at us, and he kept his hat on. (17.33)

Campbell takes note of little things like Wilson keeping his chin out and hat on to illustrate what was problematically demanded of black individuals in front of white ones—that is, they had to show respect by doing things like taking off their hats and deferring to any white men and women in the room. Wilson does none of these things.

But here's what makes this scene even trickier: Vonnegut scripts it to suggest that Wilson is working against his own interests by teaming up with Jones. Jones wants a white America. Wilson sees this as the start of a revolution in which he can fight for a Black America.

Yeah, none of this is good.