Close to the end of the 20th century, African-American literature reviewed topics that were traditional for the writers in this field in the preceding decades and centuries. After comparing the nature of topics discussed by these writers earlier on, the review discovered new problems that are related to the changing status of the African American groups in the United States of America (Hogue 56). At this point in time, there was reassessment of current values in relation to the past, forming a new look at events in history, especially in the era of slavery. No doubt, the latter years were better than the past. The evaluation of the past was used to understand the present by seeing what developments had happened so as to predict what will very likely happen in the future. It follows that the literary works done in those years addressed the social, political, and cultural concerns of their moment of production, which can be used to compare with the present, while still relating to the future. Therefore, the knowledge of the past events is important in enabling us to understand the present, as well as the developments and the actions that drive people in the modern world. Importantly, this understanding will enable us to understand and predict future development in the African-American community.
“Mama Day” (1988) by Gloria Naylor
This novel presents a fictitious island called Willow Springs in which a sense of continuity of traditions pervades. It is a portrayal of the African American struggle with westernization and modernism at the end of the 20th century. On Willow Springs, a community of women, referred to as the Day family, preserve their cultural memory through repetition of material practices such as weaving and cooking, and through transmission of communal and personal stories. The author privileges the dynamism of the living memory of the island despite attempts to adjust it by interruptions from the Western-oriented mainland. This book examines a different ways in which individuals can conceptualize, articulate, and represent relationship with the past, only by maintaining the traditions of the communities. Currently, emphasis has been placed on written state-sanctioned history as the only link between the traditional and the present. Interestingly, this phenomenon continues to occur against a background where pre-industrial traditional societies are fading under the forces of modernity (Hogue 78). However, Naylor’s novel develops a conviction that passing on traditions is the only way to preserve history. The author indicates that communities that maintain such traditional practices have the resilience needed to survive and adapt to social changes that are in most instances temporal. Naylor’s portrays Willow Springs Island, its inhabitants, and visitors social and cultures to suggest the importance of passing on traditions preserves and memorable events to new generations. Naylor constructs the understanding of the island symbolically to mean ‘home’ for African Americans in order to reduce the effect of modernization, social fragmentation, and social rapture in them. She illustrates to the present African-American community that the center of resistance in Africa does not lie on flying back home but on retaining and transmitting African-derived values. In fact, the author opines that this measure will enable the African-American communities to overcome problems of cultural and social erosion that they are facing.. These values can be passed on through folklores, herb and root work, and quilting.
“Oxherding Tale” (1982) by Charles Johnson
Oxherding tale depicts the varied and startling adventures of Andrew Hawkins as he struggles to negotiate the dangerous passage from slavery to freedom (59). The tale is told as a slave narrative of a comic but confusing story of Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins was born on the Cripplegate plantation in a location identified as Antebellum South. His birth is presented as an accident because he conceived from the relationship between his father, the master of Cripplegate, and a slave, who had gone in for a night of drinking and swapping wives. Further, Andrew grows up familiar with the discord between sexes and the enmity between races. The author passes through racial barriers in the struggle for freedom and liberation. These events results in him having an identity crisis
John’s main emphasis in the novel is an evaluation critic on black written textuality. Oxherding Tale tries to achieve a level of freedom from the hegemony of what the author sees as a narrow, limiting tradition of texts written by African-Americans. According to Johnson, this tradition controls the images of the African-Americans by depicting them as the victims of racist oppression. Further, he shows that the texts wrongfully defines African-American experience as a perpetual struggle against racism and binary opposition to Native-Americans. The author focuses on the experience of black people, and it is through the revision of the traditional literature, that he develops a contemporary way to freedom and liberation for them. Arguably, the author gives contemporary African Americans a different view on the issue of racial discrimination that is contrary to what most authors have been depicting.
David Bradley’s ‘Chanevsville Incident’
David Bradley’s (1981) narrative ‘Chanevsville Incident’ is based on a historical event in which slaves, fleeing through an underground railroad, and committed suicide when faced with capture. This is a story of a black man who was raised in Pennsylvanian, a state that has high levels of where the problem of racism and bigotry existed. The author searches for his identity by trying to connect with the pasts that are familiar to him. He traces his ancestry including the root cause of his father’s and grandfather’s death. Generally, he identifies the horrors of racisim, which he is able to relate the horrors of slavery to the demise of his grandparents. . For this reason, the man struggles to raise himself up above the roots of slaver, racism, and discrimination by ce of profound hatred towards white men by black people from the novel, as a result of ‘discrimination’. The novel presents a comprehensive perspective of the experience of the Black-Americans in the era of slaver. It illustrates how the past events still haunted the areas in which they had earlier occurred, affecting the lineage of families that were hard hit by the experiences. Definitely, this discovery has a huge impression on the perpetual struggle of freedom and equality of rights for African-American presently. It illustrates how the current trends have roots in generations that died long time ago. Further, it should illustrate the probability that the struggle will continue in the foreseeable future.
“Dessa Rose”(1986) by Shirley Anne Williams
The book begins with description of a person known as Dessa Rose, a pregnant slave in a prison cell. She is captured alongside other slaves’ runaways. Her execution is postponed until she gives birth to her child. Shortly before she conceives, three men appear at night, and rescue her from the prison. All of them travel to a small plantation managed by Ruth Elizabeth in Sutton. The plantation is used as a refuge for runaway slaves, where a scheme is made to save them. The novel illustrates how politics and law affects the lives of African American communities presently in America. Page (45) explains that Dessa Rose is based on two historical incidences. The first incidence is an 1829 story of a pregnant African-American woman who had engineered an uprising in a plantation. The other part is an 1830 story of a certain white woman who lived in a secluded farm in North Carolina who was reported to have given sanctuary to ‘runaway’ slaves. The author draws on the blues investigation tradition to create a fictional account of the embodiment struggle of an African American woman in the plantation culture of Northern Alabama. The author signifies on history as she becomes conscious of the gaps between democratic myths of freedom and equality, as well as the state sanctioned violence in slavery. This novel illustrates the discriminatory nature of treatment to African-Americans despite the notion that they are afforded equal rights. Dessa Rose crosses the set racial boundaries to indict white society to hold the society collectively accountable for the racist institutions that were sanctioned by the white supremacist social order.
Hogue, W. Lawrence. African American Male, Writing, and Difference, The: A Polycentric Approach to African American Literature, Criticism, and History. SUNY Press, 2012.
Page, Philip. Reclaiming community in contemporary African American fiction. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2011.