There are many examples of books that can be considered picaresque novels. Some of the better known examples included On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, Don Quixote by Pierre Menard, and most importantly, The Adventures of Huckle Berry Finn by Mark Twain. The book Middle Passage, also happens to be an example of the picaresque novel. Or is it? Underneath that calm picaresque exterior lies the heart of a truly great novel. In his book, Charles Johnson uses many different literary forms and styles including the most obvious: the picaresque; however, during the course of the book, he presumes to violate this form, and others, thereby creating his own completely new and interesting style.
Throughout the book there are several cases which show how, in many ways, the book is picaresque, but in others, it is not. In traditional picaresque novels, the protagonist goes on some kind of journey. In the case of Middle Passage, quite clearly, Calhoun goes on a journey. However, it is not just a physical journey. It is also a highly mental journey. He goes from being a thief, who lives life day by day, and gets by the skin of his teeth, and the edge of his wits. Through the book, it seems like Calhoun doesn"t really recognize the fact that he is black, or he does not make an issue of it. After the ship arrives in port and picks up the slaves, Calhoun has a change of attitude. The slaves that have been held captive, and now are on board the Republic help him to realize his heritage, and the color of his skin. Being a freshly released slave himself, Calhoun seems to have quite a bit of sympathy for the members of the tribe. He even goes so far as to steal the key to the irons from Falcon and then offers the key to Ngoyama to try and help the slaves get free. His sympathy is also shown through his relationship with Baleka. Throughout the story, he takes Baleka on under his wing as if he's protecting his own daughter.