March 23rd, 201
African American Literature
As we begin delving into the depths of the history of African Americans and their experiences it is evident that as a whole they are a culture that have slowly been afforded the voice and rights to stand up for what is right and wrong. In Harriet A. Jacobs’s tale we are introduced to a young woman that has no power over the events of her life. She is completely subjected to the whims of others. As we move into the future we are introduced to the character Delia created by Zora Neale Hurston. Delia is a woman who finds that she can take the power to stand up for herself and what is just and fair. After years of abuse at the hands of her unfaithful husband she finally finds her strength and freedom. Lastly we find that as we as a nation gains a sense of civil rights the struggle continues between the conservative minded and those who firmly believe in equality and the need to pursue a better path in life.
Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl was written by Harriet A. Jacobs, a young woman who was born a slave in 1813. Although she states that she was blissfully unaware of her station until the passing of her mother. “When I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time, I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave.” (Jacobs, Pg. 108) The loss of her mother and the revelation that she was in fact a slave brought to an end her happy childhood. This is an autobiography of her life although it was initially released under the nom de plume of Linda Brent. Harriet’s is a tale of the struggles that faced many young slave girls at the hands of Masters with inappropriate and cruel intentions towards them.
The narrator in this is the protagonist herself. The tale pics up after she has already escaped and is now considered to be a fugitive. In an effort to remain close to her children she has taken refuge in a small hiding place above the stockroom in her grandmother’s attic. Harriet’s tale is filled with imagery that helps the audience fell that they have joined her in hiding in the dark and stifling nine by seven foot shed. She has fled from her servitude because of the conflict she faced at the hands of Dr. Flint. He has doggedly pursued her. “Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in Slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered.” (Jacobs, pg.518)
Zora Neale Hurston lived her life in Florida from 1818 to 1960. She had a profound interest for the culture of African Americans without any particular interest in the race conflict that marked the writings of her peers. “Sweat” was a short story that follows the conflict faced by Delia Jones as she is faced by an unfaithful deadbeat husband who appears to delight in tormenting her. She presents the picture of a strong woman who works hard to provide for herself and takes pride in herself. Delia has suffered abuse at the hands of her husband and only has a deep fear of one thing, snakes. In an effort to continue his reign of terror over her he brings home a rattlesnake and insists to keep it in a box on the porch. He sets out arrange for her up to fall victim to an “accidental” death caused by the bite of the venomous snake. As we follow her in her terror she escapes and watches as he enters the house and finds himself the snakes’ victim. This act frees her from his cruelty. The dialect that Hurston uses in her tale allows the reader to feel they are walking in the characters shoes. It sets the stage for the tale and draws the audience into the lives and experiences as though they are real. This story includes a parable the teaches the lesson that you should be careful of the evil you put out in the world as it may turn and strike you instead of those that you are intending to harm.
Dudley Randall was born in Washington D. C. in the year 1914. Publishing his first poem at the tender age of thirteen he would grow to eventually become a highly respected poet, editor and eventually a publisher and the founder of Broadside Press opening the doorway for many other Black poets to reach towards success and respect as writers themselves.
“Booker T. and W.E.B.” is a poem that follows a discussion between characters from contrasting schools of thought. It is an exchange between two influential men, one being of a conservative set of mind reasons that African Americans should not involve themselves in the civil rights commotion and be content to labor without complaint in the fields or in the kitchens and save the money earned to buy a house. The opposing argument being driven by the ideals of equality and justice alluding to education as the objective to which African Americans should aspire. The “cultivation of the brain” will pay off as an education will lead to the ability to help create laws that will lead to the betterment of all and also education is the path to integrity, self-worth and a sense of impartiality. Of all of Randall’s written works this is the most anthologized. It uses the written style of poetry with rhythm and rhyme to lay out the opposing arguments of the characters. The poem is written as a dialog between the characters and in closing gives the last word to the man who stands for equality and the pursuit of advancement for all African Americans through education. This acts to enlighten the reader as to which side of the issue the author stands.
It is only through the continued expansion of what is considered literature that we can continue to expand our exposure to the lives and experiences of others and evolve and grow as humans. In the acceptance of the writings of African Americans into the minds of the people we may not find the power to change the situations of the past but we can learn to prevent similar attitudes and ill treatment of others in the future. In reading the works of Jacobs, Hurston, and Randall a window has opened up to understand the life and trials that faced the African American people.
JStore. (Sept. 1990). Nineteenth-Century Literature. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10,2307/3045142
Young, A. (1996). African American Literature. Berkeley, CA: Addison-Wesley Educational Publisher, Inc.