Daniel wrote a new post, Thoughts on Yesterday Will Make You Cry (Daniel Carlson), on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 5 months, 3 weeks ago
A very interesting book and one that begs the question of exactly what kind of book it is. Prison story? Treatise on race in depression-era America? Love story? Or something else entirely…
I believe (and this […]
I too had some of those questions about race, and about what if any agenda Himes may have had for his treatment of it in this novel. Then I just stopped thinking and enjoyed the novel too. Your note about the comment Himes made about that is interesting (that it was purely for commercial reasons to write a white protagonist). Seems like the kind of no nonsense comment he would make.
I had not thought of your core interpretation–that Jimmy grew as a man in strength and determination, through survival within the constraints of prison life, to finally become strong enough to make sacrifices for love. Feels very authentic and true.
I love this line: “But for me, Yesterday Will Make You Cry is, at its core, the story of a man – Jimmy – in search of intimacy, in search of love. ” I agree that, both before he is imprisoned and after, he is on this search and one of the ironies, deeply felt, in the book is that he finds that intimacy right as he is being released from prison. On the one hand, it is as if he now has the personal, emotional depth to lead a different life outside of prison. On the other, he will never again see Rico, the man he loves in such a complex and passionate way. In some ways, the book is “portrait of the artist as a young man” since he also finds his way as a writer–with intimacy a necessary precondition, perhaps, of being able to write, with empathy, of others. Best, Cathy
You wrote about what kind of book this is – a prison story, a story about race, or about love? I think what’s beautiful about this novel is that it weaves in various themes and experiments with the queer identity in a way that is shocking for the time period. He writes of men who are in love but who are not gay, of butches and femmes and fags and of a world in which gender was not sex; but where gender was whatever people made of it. His novel obscured all of my expectation, but I found it shocking that I hadn’t yet read it.
Interesting that you ask “exactly what kind of book it is. Prison story? Treatise on race in depression-era America? Love story? Or something else entirely…” I find that this novel embodies many different “kinds” of stories and lessons in order to teach us a lesson. That lesson may be that things aren’t always as they seem and that even in the darkest of time you can still find light and life. Chester Himes does an excellent job of making sure we understand that because in a place where love is not supposed to grow, it does. In my opinion you’re spot on by saying there is much to take from this one novel.
Daniel wrote a new post, Daniel Carlson: response to William J. Maxwell’s “Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-read African American Writing”, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 6 months, 1 week ago
Although written well before the election of Donald Trump, it’s difficult to read Maxwell’s Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-read African American Writing without comparing the current adm […]
HI Dan, Thanks for this. Maxwell focuses on Black writers who came under Hoover’s scrutiny. He was also obsessed with all Left-leaning writers (the Rosenbergs, of course), with gay writers, with academics. I hope we go back and look at some of the McCarthy hearings–they are as “ham fisted” as the accusations today: lives were lost, people were deported. And the press and publishers were as complicit then as now. AND . . . so was the opposition and the remarkable outpouring of art, as you suggest. That will be a current throughout the course: how art survives against such odds.
Although written well before the election of Donald Trump, it’s difficult to read Maxwell’s Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-read African American Writing without comparing the current administration’s ham-fisted, neanderthal, fascistic attempts to stifle dissention to the methods used by Hoover’s FBI.
I would absolutely agree with this sentiment. The Trump Administration’s identifying of black activists as “Black Identity Extremists” is case and point. The Administration is intent on stifling organized protest and dissent and I imagine in years to come we will be shocked – or affirmed – as information on the FBI’s surveillance over black activist communities during the Trump Administration is illuminated.