Horrors of Ghetto Life Exposed in Whoreson and Dopefiend
Donald Goines's lived the majority of his life either on the streets of the ghetto or in jail-because he was supporting himself and his heroin addiction by taking part in many illegal activities. During the last of his many prison terms, Goines finally found his way out of having to rely on crime for his way of living. He did this by writing about his life on the streets. His first two books, Whoreson and Dopefiend, were actually written during his last prison term. One critic of Goines, his biographer Eddie Stone, says the following about these books: "Whoreson, like most of Donald Goines's books, is autobiographical . . . . Donald wrote Dopefiend from personal experience, and the pages of the novel draw the reader into that world with almost hypnotic rhythm" (145, 151-52). It is because of the fact that Goines was writing from experience that he was able to make reading one of his books such a captivating and harrowing experience. These books are similar because they are both realistic portrayals of the negative aspects of ghetto life, and they are both Goines's attempts to try to keep the next generation of young black people from making the same mistakes that he did. However, these books differ because Dopefiend is a more truthful, autobiographical portrayal of what Goines's life was really like than Whoreson is.
Goines's ghetto, as portrayed in Whoreson, is essentially the same ghetto he lived in all his life, which makes his portrayal of the negative aspects of ghetto life quite realistic. Therefore, because Goines was writing from experience, this makes his portrayal of the ghetto all the more realistic. In fact, Stone, even quotes passages from Whoreson, in his biography on Goines, as being true descriptions of how Goines lived as a teenager on the streets of Detroit: "Trickology must be used whenever it was impossible to rip something off. Artifice became my bible, as I learned to play stuff, the shell game, pigeon drop and three card molly" (35). This is one of the negative aspects of ghetto life that Goines and Whoreson spent almost their whole young adulthood hustling. Furthermore, this quote is also representative of one of Goines's philosophies about the ghetto, as expressed by critic, Greg Goode: "Because Goines's ghettos are like zero-sum-game societies in which one man's gain must be another's loss, his characters cannot thrive or even survive without breaking the law" (43). After considering this quote, it can be said that the lives of Goines's characters, like Whoreson, are dramatized for fictional effect because in reality one man's gain does not necessarily always have to be at another's loss. However, his characters do not recognize this; so, they end up living very exciting and precarious lives completely supported by illegal/criminal activities.
Another negative aspect of ghetto life, which Goines portrays realistically, is that...