Term Paper: African-American Women's Literature

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African-American Women's Literature

Unlike any other marker of civilization literature demonstrates a vision of the social and psychological world in which we live. During the post civil rights era there have been a number of seminal authors who give meaning and message to their times and the times, which came before them. Literature during this period is a marker of change and also an exploration of modern concepts of the past. Through the works of African-American women writers can be seen a message of change that has overcome our society. We have reached a point at which it is now considered acceptable to explore the changes to our society that have come from the civil rights movement and discuss issues that before now were seen as dark periods in our history and therefore not acceptable to explore. Despite facing much adversity, African-American women have greatly attributed to society through great works of literature. Of the three authors in focus, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker it can be said that their great literary successes have been gained not despite adversity but because of adversity. The three can draw deep meaning from the mundane and build the case for the strength of Black women through this depth.

The three aforementioned literary figures have been at the forefront of change and have explored their own as well as their ancestor's angst and hope. Toni Morrison. Maya Angelou and Alice Walker are and will continue to be seen as three of the greatest writers of our time and through their works concepts of adversity and hope are explored unflinchingly. Morrison, Angelou and walker discuss, with clarity and even rawness the reality of developing as a whole person through the adversity of being black women, both in the past and in the present. They both discuss and dissect the lives of the women who have come before them and their own lives literally and figuratively. Challenges are apparent, and resolution is certain, in a life where resolution must be introspective, as it is rarely publicly avowed.

Toni Morrison's work Beloved (1987) shows a progression of the African-American spirit through the challenges of life and death, pulling the reader into a web of adversity and then hope through the eternal. Maya Angelou, markedly one of the most influential writers of our time, despite her subjugation as an African-American and a women in a man's world, shows an incredible sense of the real and the valuable in her autobiographical works, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). Lastly but certainly not inferior, Alice Walker in her short story collection (1973) in these three works are a literal and a fictional progression of lives and spirits.

Within the Morrison's Beloved, the quest for the spiritual is clearly the message, a spiritual growth and development if you will. Angelou's, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes a literal autobiographical work commenting on Angelou's life through tragedy and triumph and within Walker's in Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women is a kaleidoscope of black women's lives in America through the ages. Three different works, comprising three powerful genres, the fictional novel, the autobiography and the short story combined send a message of the creative spirit borne of trauma and pain.

Among the collected works of all three of these writers there are so many messages that transcend the mundane, yet are expressed entirely within the mundane. Taking this theme to bear on the works chosen for this analysis the reader has not far to look. The environment of each work demonstrates the history and reality of each woman's collective idea of the past, present and future. Morrison writes of the scenery present in the world of her ancestor's the poor but clean homes and clothing of the characters is a clear reminder of the reformation, a time when struggle was the only choice for nearly all people in the United States, but mostly for blacks, attempting to etch out a new existence within a changed world.

She still can't say exactly what made these stories snap together in her imagination, but she does know that in both instances she was seeing remarkable examples of how much a woman could love in a sacrificial way, of how a woman could place the value of her life in something other than herself. 3 Whatever else these stories might have said, to Morrison they ultimately provided "noble" ideas around which to build Beloved and Jazz, the first two novels of her projected trilogy meant to cover the whole story of African-Americans.

Beloved is the beginning of a story, a story of transcendence when African-American's and women in general are given the opportunity to climb out of old bondage and the ways in which they must make reparations for their deeds, while the chattel of another. One remarkable expert on Morrison's work likens the three works in her trilogy with the levels of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Morrison trilogy responding to the three works of Dante the Divine Comedy: Inferno Purgatorio, and Paradisio.Beloved depicts the hell of slavery and its immediate aftermath. Beloved, the first in the trilogy, takes place in the 1880s, with references to earlier events...in Beloved, crucial earlier events are related indirectly to the reader, by way of the narrator or the characters' memories.

Through the mundane interactions of the characters, going through the motions of life, making dinner, expressing passion and communicating in the ways of a family, the spiritual, is discussed and dissected. Beloved, the character is the ghost of Sethe's dead baby, drowned by her to save it from a life of slavery. Beloved simply appears one day with stolen cloths and begins to live with the family,

What was you looking for when you came here?" he asked her. "This place. I was looking fro this place I could be in." "Somebody tell you about this house?" "She told me. When I was at the bridge, she told me." "Must be somebody from the old days, " Sethe said. The days when 124 was a way station where messages came and then their senders. Where bits of news soaked like dried beans in spring water-until they were soft enough to digest." "How'd you come? Who brought you?"..." I walked here, " she said. "A long, long, long, long way. Nobody bring me. Nobody help me." "If you walked so long why don't your shoes show it?"..."I take the shoes! I take the dress! The shoe strings don't fix!" she shouted and gave him a look so malevolent Denver touched her arm. "I'll teach you, " said Denver, "how to tie your shoes," and got a smile from Beloved as a reward.

Her interactions are seductive and spiritual and it is not until she disappears again that the resolution of Sethe's life and the clarity of the family's future begins to be seen. 'Sethe, " he says, "me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow."

Susan Corey's "Toward the Limits of Mystery: The Grotesque in Toni Morrison's Beloved" argues that Morrison develops two versions of the grotesque, the positive (emphasizing play, humor, and renewal) and the negative (emphasizing alienation, estrangement, and terror) in order "[to use] the grotesque to its fullest capacity" (33)....this particular aesthetic has permitted Morrison to treat "political and moral issues without sacrificing artistic quality" because the grotesque's "visual qualities" coupled with its ability to "surprise, shock, and disrupt" require that readers confront "moral questions" (47).

Within the work the mundane, or as some would call it the grotesque, is woven into the spiritual, everything has a meaning that builds to resolution. Each image is a tangible representation of something we all know, have touched but do not see until it is described by Morrison through her characters. Constantly referred to in the final passages of the work is a quilt, a patchwork soothing Sethe's grief from Beloved's desertion. While the characters minds wonder if their bodies and minds will stay together, like the quilt and how they compliment one another. Sethe is afraid of Paul's touch, "...if he bathes her in sections, will the parts hold?" While Paul is similarly thinking of the way that Sethe holds him together, "The pieces I am, she gather them and give then back to me in all the right order." Like the quilt these shattered souls are pieced together to finding comfort in the mundane and grotesque and with a greater understanding of the spiritual. A message that clearly demonstrates this is the stated goal of the author, Morrison' dedication of the book speaks volumes of the message she wishes to impart to the reader.

The book is dedicated to "sixty million and more." This figure refers to the estimated number of Africans rounded up for the slave trade who either died while awaiting transportation or who died during the passage on the slave ships. Although this figure is not the only estimate available, it represents the most reliable… [END OF PREVIEW]

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