Young Lions

Anjuelle D. Floyd

Edward P. Jones’ Young Lions opens with twenty-four-year old Caesar Matthews reading a note from his girlfriend, Carol, with whom he lives. Carol’s note, taped to a carton of milk in the refrigerator, and as on so many previous occasions, states “…she loves him with all her heart.” (p. 55)

Manny calls. The owner of Manny’s haven, a bar where Caesar works off and on as a bartender, Manny speaks of Caesar’s long-time friend Sherman who has died in Howard Hospital.

Caesar and Sherman made their living by robbing people, and for the “…fourth time in a week,” Caesar has dreamt “… about the retarded woman.” (p. 55)

Later at Manny’s Haven, and while speaking with Manny, again about Sherman, Caesar considers a previous plan to rob Manny—one that he had shared with Sherman. “…We can take him…come in wearin’ masks…clean his ass out…live like kings…”

Sherman had disagreed. “…Even if we got the millions where we gonna’ live…Manny still paying people back for some small thing they…did to him when he was five years old.” (p. 61)

Caesar Matthews needs money. That his partner, Sherman, is dead and that Sherman warned against robbing, Manny, Caesar pursues his plan to rob the woman of his dream
12/02/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Young Lions
Anjuelle D. Floyd

—a retarded woman named Anna who actually exists in waking life. Caesar has been following Anna “…for all of two months…” observing where she lives, when and where she goes to work, and her path for coming home in the afternoon. (p. 64)

Caesar concocts a plan that she shares with Carol. Though quite resistant, Carol waits for Anna one Friday afternoon when Anna is headed to the bank to deposit her paycheck. Encountering her, Carol tells Anna that she, Carol, has a sick son, who needs a life-saving operation. The procedure costs five thousand dollars. With no hesitation Anna goes into the bank, withdraws five thousand dollars and gives Carol the cash.

Prior to this scene Jones provides a stunning portrait of Caesar. Caesar Matthews is the elder son and eldest child of Lemuel Matthews, and Lemuel’s wife, Caesar’s deceased mother. Upon the death of Caesar’s mother, Caesar’s cousin, Angelo Billings, stole flowers “…from an I’ Street florist…” and took them to the funeral—an act that for Caesar symbolized “…he [Angelo] loved Caesar’s mother as much as he loved anyone.” (p. 66)

It is Angelo who introduces Caesar to Sherman, who would then make Caesar his partner in the crime of stealing, first by robbing Lemuel Matthews, Caesar’s father, in the wake of the death of Caesar’s mother, and then during the ensuing years until Sherman’s death when Caesar is twenty-four.

12/02/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Young Lions
Anjuelle D. Floyd

Sherman is the male who guides Caesar’s transition from adolescence to young adulthood. And it is Sherman who serves as loving male during Caesar’s coming of age —a quality and experience that Caesar did not share with his father, Lemuel. Stealing, the act committed by Caesar’s cousin, Angelo Billings, and done out of love for Caesar’s mother, becomes Caesar’s own way of paying homage to his mother—and connecting with his masculinity. Interestingly enough the act of thievery becomes Caesar’s way of experiencing his anima, the divine feminine that live s within each male and what Caesar’s mother, as do all mothers for their sons, held and symbolized in his, Caesar’s life.

Each time Caesar commits a robbery he resurrects his mother, that part of him, unnamed, as his mother in the story, an aspect that was wounded in the loss of his father’s love, and has now suffered the loss of Sherman. In an effort to stamp out the hatred he felt from his father, Lemuel, a judgmental man, torn and most probably hurting from his own childhood losses, Caesar also connects with that nameless aspect of himself. The essence of Young Lions rests upon the juxtaposition of Caesar Matthew’s need and vulnerability set against his desire to ascertain money, and thus creates the central conflict of the narrative.

Caesar Matthews justifies his existence through the act of stealing. It is in stealing, taking from others—first from his father, Lemuel, then with others as Sherman’s partner—that Caesar Matthews feels most alive. Yet in his loss of Sherman, a livelihood of stealing
12/02/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Young Lions
Anjuelle D. Floyd

becomes Caesar’s way of remaining connected with Sherman—and Caesar with himself.

While Caesar was the one to advance the use of a weapon during their robberies, Sherman “…hadn’t liked Caesar carrying a gun…in their first months together…had pulled rank and told Caesar to leave the guns at home…but Caesar would sneak them out anyway...” (p. 58)

Caesar concocts a plan for getting Anna’s money without the use of a gun. It is in carrying out this task in a manner that honors Sherman that Caesar encounters his anima combined with the death of who he thought he was in the face of his true identity—that of a thief who will steal from anyone—even the most vulnerable aspects of himself represented by Anna.

With Anna gone and the money in her possession, Carol refuses to hand over the cash. Carol and Caesar enter into a brawl. The money falls from Carol’s bag, exposing their crime, Caesar slaps Carol over and over, bloodying her nose and lip. Caesar pulls his gun on Carol, and brings it to her cheek.

It is there that Caesar meets himself and realizes that none of his behavior has startled or frightened nor surprised Carol. “…if he beat her with the pistol…shot her in the face…or through the heart…she would not have been surprised…” (p. 75)

12/02/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Young Lions
Anjuelle D. Floyd

Carol now holds and represents Caesar’s anima. She fills the hole rent by the death of Caesar’s mother, the loss of love from Caesar’s father, Lemuel, and that Lemuel most likely never possessed to give. She also holds in Caesar’s life the place of Sherman who has recently died. Carol’s words matter. Her actions deeply affect Caesar.

Yet Carol has known all along who Caesar was, and is, and who he has become. And unlike Caesar’s father, Lemuel, Carol loves Caesar—something Caesar has yet to do for himself. This frightens Caesar. He has never experienced true love combined with holding one accountable for distinguishing right from wrong and acting accordingly.

12/02/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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