African-American Literature Research Proposal

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African-American Literature

Early black literature was often viewed by white society as anomalous representations of limited scope that proved only the ability of the individual who attested to writing the work but did only limited work to forward a change in the pervasive opinion of black intellectual ability, or lack there of. To receive any publishable option in the U.S., especially black writers and thinkers had to find white intellectuals or high ranking society members to testify in print, as a prelude to the work, that it had been written by the black individual who claimed it. The intellectualism of some of these works are mentioned by Posnok in Color and Culture, one example being Iola Leroy an 1892 Frances Harper novel, which Posnok describes as the story of a "tragic mulatta." (100) Since that time many have seen black literature as a way to continue the transformation of the "black" intellect as capable of high thought, with many years of continued low opinion of their innate ability challenges in the form of literature are often seen as political in some manner, regardless of their nature.

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Posnok argues that this "identity" literature is of the past and that the politics of identity is no longer the primary goal of African-American literature. (21-23) This, is not to say that such works are not transformative as in works like Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, where successive generations of characters resist white authority in both serious and comical fashion or Richard Wright's Native Son where the character Bigger is shown not as the demon that the white world would make him out to be for his crimes but a man cornered by destructive racism and a feeling of anger and helplessness in its face. The challenges of the system and the fact that racism is perpetuated by an economy of oppression demonstrate that each work is an attempt to demonstrate the pervasive inequality, that goes far beyond identity and constitutional sentiment.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on African-American Literature Assignment

Within each of these works are both minor and major themes of resistance, as well as themes of overcoming helplessness in the face of stark racism. The demonstrative line of both is an interesting economic emphasis, interwoven into the fabric of individual character building and observations. The example I find pertinent in both works is the position of the exploitive and fierce landlord. In Song of Solomon the landlord in Macomb Jr. A wealthy cruel black man who is riding on the backs of his brothers to continue to accumulate wealth. While in Native Son the wealthy landlord, also riding on the backs of poor blacks is Mr. Dalton a white man who views himself as a philanthropist while he segregates and overcharges his black tenants in a racist system of oppressive economy.

If offered a juxtaposition of the two works, one might see that the thematic sentiment in both works is the manner in which unequal economies further the systematic taboos and racist plots of holding the black man down and creating in him the need to resist as well as the right to feel helpless. Toni Morrison's work demonstrates that one of the only ways that the black man can succeed is by adopting the economic strategies of the white man, therefore forsaking his own race. While in Wright's work the situation is demonstrative of a more traditional role, where the only way a black man can survive is by somehow supporting the system which oppresses him. In Bigger's case his succumbing to a more legitimate lifestyle, than that of an armed robber to that of a chauffer for Mr. Dalton. Both positions lead the men, Macon Jr. And Bigger into a position of desperation and fear, answered with anger that results in violence toward the world and toward the ones' he loves. In the case of Macon Jr. his wife and family and in the case of Bigger, Bessie, his girlfriend, whom he rapes and murders after the accidental murder of Mary Dalton, likely one of the only white people who would ever have really understood him, as she was a communist and her associates understood the economic oppression that Bigger experienced, daily.

Bigger's experience was one of the condemned as his act with Bessie, exceedingly dire as it was condemned him to take the rap for every desperate act that had taken place in his town against women, "You killed and raped two women in two days; who'll believe you when you say you didn't rape and kill the others?" (305) When in reality his act toward Mary was a fearful accident, as he attempted to conceal his presence from Mary's blind mother he suffocated her. The consensual affection, which did not culminate into rape and his burning of her body in the furnace (76-80) led many to speculate that his brutishness was universal and that he was not only a rapist and murderer but a serial one. (305-322) Bigger, despite his good intentions was challenged by his situation, and almost incapable of reacting appropriately. When Bessie came to him while he was in hiding he sees her as she is, "She seemed so little and helpless. She should not have come here. Her sorrow accused him. If he could only make her go home." (298) Yet he has no ability to alter his actions, as her resistance to his affections serves to fuel his repressed anger regarding the position that Mary had willfully put him in by responding to his desires a few days before, which had ended in her accidental death. Bigger's world is torn apart as his actions foretell the reaction the "legitimate" white community will have to him in any semblance of a future he might have. Bigger, "...felt his life again threatened in a way that meant that he was to go down the dark road a helpless spectacle of sport for others, he sprang back into action, alive, contending..." (276) the later part of the quote stressing that his only viable reaction to helplessness was an analogy to and real application of blindness.

The multiplicity of "blindness" as a theme in the work also stresses the fact that people of all types can be blinded by anger, frustration, helplessness and in the case of many whites self-righteousness. Blindness in the real sense had been the joke of his actions, when he did not trust Mary's mother's blindness to result in his not being discovered breaking the moral racial taboo of being within Mary's room at night and blindness runs as a theme through his life, as he notes and recognizes all the substantive blindness to economy, right and wrong and devastation associated with racism in his circle of black and white associates.

Morrison's characters, with the inclusion of the very feminine experience of black resistance, with the mild resistance to white authority, that can be found in the (re)naming of the street from Mains street to Not Doctor Street and the hospital, which serves as a center to the drama of the work, the freedom of resistance through failed flight to No Mercy Hospital as it did not serve blacks despite the fact that it was in a black neighborhood and on a street where the only black doctor had lived and died. (10-11) Yet, the villain in the story is not only white suppression but a black man's part in it, as Macon Jr. seeks out the most desperate of his tenants to prey upon as well as leveling countless violent and oppressive abuses toward his wife and children. The fact that his surname is Dead, that his first name is the result of a white soldier's misnomer of his father and the fact that he embraces the only legitimate way to become successful as a black man all prove the futility of his life in narrative. He is a shadow of a man, attempting to live his life in the only way he knows how, leveling abuse toward his own people in a helpless attempt to set himself apart from them and make a legitimate but shallow place within the confines of white economy.

Morrison's characters experience daily oppression, and Morrison gives them voice to express small daily resistance to it, one example being that of education. In a scene early in the work a young negro boy is told by a nurse at No Mercy Hospital to go to -a-d-m-i-s-i-o-n-s- and fetch someone to come help the man about to jump off the roof and the negro woman in labor, Macon's wife, Ruth and the daughter of the dead black doctor. The boy, is frustrated as the nurse has spelled admissions incorrectly, even though the act of spelling in out to him was a way of attempting to stress the fact that he was a lesser person than herself. (13-14) the allusion to superiority in contradiction is seated in the idea that the boy recognizes the error and through the obvious tutelage of his grandmother seeks to tell the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "African-American Literature" Research Proposal in a Bibliography:

APA Style

African-American Literature.  (2008, December 22).  Retrieved September 20, 2021, from

MLA Format

"African-American Literature."  22 December 2008.  Web.  20 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"African-American Literature."  December 22, 2008.  Accessed September 20, 2021.