• A most profound problem in the exegesis of most mid-century novels of black authorship is the determination of the degree to which race and censorship cast its pall over the entire enterprise.  To what extent was […]

    • Hi Luis, This is brilliant! Comparing JC to the clown in Shakespeare AND minstrelsy feels spot on—and that it is both, is fascinating, child and jester, stereotypes and truth-sayers. I also think the comparison to Romeo and Juliet is apt–with race rather than family enmity making for “star-crossed lovers.” Your sensitivity to the nuance in a text is so impressive. I remain fascinated by your comment in class that Abbie is the only person who really changes in the book. Usually the person who changes is the larger-than-life figure, good to bad, bad to good, a stand-in for us all. That the snoopy, censorious, bourgeois regulator and arbiter of morals and social norms is (a) probably in a lesbian relationship and (b) someone who grows deeper and changes . . .well, that’s profound writing, taking conventions and turning them inside out. Best, Cathy

      • Hi Cathy, Thanks once again for taking time for making helpful comments…

  • Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones initially evokes the life of Bajan immigrant families brought together within the tight, adjacent confines of brownstones in Brooklyn in the time of trolley cars during t […]

    • Your thoughtful description of the novel recalls some of the main features of a culture of conformity that is often associated with the 1950s. It strikes me a stunning example of integration’s failures, especially as they shed light on the problematic notion of citizenship and its message of opportunity and equality.

    • Luis,

      You write that:

      Selina also sees the “coming of age” of a community riven over the choice of whether Barbadian progress should be for Barbadians, or whether it should be subsumed under the mantle of Negro progress, which inevitably would insinuate the “commonist” associations of the Negro world into that of the Bajan.

      This is an interesting analysis and one that I thought about a lot when I was reading the novel, and a question that I struggled to come to terms with. Barbadians in the novel, as depicted, seemed intent on debating this question, but I found it fascinating that associating black struggles together was viewed by characters in the novel as communist. That these kinds of struggles would be called communist in nature – or be perceived as such by the characters – when they are actually more oriented around identity politics and racial justice, shows how afraid people were of the ideas of communism, and shows the effectiveness of the red scare in many aspects of the black community.

    • What a beautiful post. Thank you. You write, “Both Silla’s stark familial loss and Deighton’s death, remind us, as Hemingway said, that the world ‘kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.'” Yes, there is that feeling that the world is actively pressing in on and trying to destroy Deighton, Silla, and Selina. Deighton is crushed right before our eyes. But like with Hemingway, we can’t ignore that there are times when we have a hand in our own destruction. I am sure if asked, Deighton would see himself as the victim of both the world, and more specifically his wife. I see however, how he victimized his family. This victimization ultimately played a role in his demise.

    • When you say, “seemingly indiscriminate way in which life doles out its consequences, as if “God is sleeping” (p.31)” I think about what really drives this story. Ultimately it is “consequences.” The consequences of all the choices that Silla and Deighton make. Silla and Deighton’s frames of minds were influenced originally but by who? If I could put it into a visual it would be a family tree, in the literal and figurative sense, of consequences. Silla and Deighton, although it would be tempting, would not be on the top. I would put those who influenced their thinking on top. I wonder, however, when would it end at the top because this story is as much about influence as it is about the consequences of those influences.

    • Luis, a couple small comments–

      Your remark that

      “despite the cruelties that parents inflict upon their children, parents endured cruelties too. …. he observes that we must come out of “our tombs, to flow out of oneself into life” once again, even if we know that we ourselves will inevitably in turn hurt others”

      brought to mind the epigraph of August Wilson’s Fences:

      “When the sins of our fathers visit us
      We do not have to play host.
      We can banish them with forgiveness
      As God, in His Largeness and Laws.”

      That play would make such a solid companion piece to this novel.

      And your note about the question of the novel between (Barbadian) black nationalism and communist organizing as a collective coming of age is intriguing. This book does such a fantastic job exploring the histories and drives and motives that create and trouble the line between the two within the diaspora.

  • The short story writer Raymond Carver’s dictum, that a writer’s primary consideration in any work is precision, is never more so masterfully evident than in Chester Himes’s evocation of the brutality of priso […]

    • Thanks Allison for reading, and for your comments!

    • Yes, I agree with you here. I found that a lot of Himes’ writing would summarize an awful incident, particularly in the beginning chapters, with the phrase “That happened.” This phrase became a slow cadence of acceptance for all of the awful incidents that occurred in the prison and was a fascinating look into how Himes’ character ultimately coped with the tragedy that was his every day imprisonment.

    • I agree that with your statement, “But the novel then turns to an even more unsettling human condition: the self-created terror and menace within us.” I completely agree that much of this book is about how the outside world affects our minds. Himes makes sure to turn us all inside out, forcing us to really take a look at the inner of the characters while challenging what we “should” already know. For example, prison means to many a place of no growth, of death, of failure. But Himes shows us that it can also be a place where love can grow and friendships are built, where a person really finds out who they are. Himes proves that the self-created terror inside of us can be broken down.

    • This a a wonderful response, Luis. Your writing and analysis are very evocative. I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to read your reflection. Keep up the good work.

  • In his film Red, the great Polish film auteur, Krzysztof Kieslowski, manages to collapse time in dramatizing the ineffable bond that materializes between an old judge’s past and a woman’s present, where the wom […]

    • I love this insight, Luis: “Critiques of surveillance often fail to note its real danger: its arbitrariness.” Reading those FBI files, I had the sense that each FBI agent had a “job description” or even a “target” (in different senses). What was arbitrary was the severity of the intrusion into individual lives. For the FBI agent, it was a job. That’s a tragedy.

    • I appreciated your highlighting of what the FBI wrote of Ellison’s work. It is striking that:

      “Among nearly six hundred pages of prose in Ellison’s Invisible Man, the FBI file selected the following two anecdotes from a review: “…Negro ministers double as pimps and numbers runners,” and “..Ellison’s Negro women are loose-moraled from school days onward,” two datums that lead to the FBI agent’s summary conclusion about Ellison’s novel: “…It is just what the killers of Negroes and the perverters of culture [Communists] ordered ….”

      The FBI takes rich novels, filled with artistic flourish and brilliance, and breaks them down with these paranoid dellusions of what could possibly be surmised by the readings. It’s fascinating and also horrifying.

  • Fiction itself would hardly be able to invent the scene of an eager FBI agent who, intent on assiduously analyzing and surveiling for Communist sympathies the theatrical premiere of a Black playwright’s dramatic w […]

    • Hi Luis, What a great writer you are! Even in a short post, your prose is really splendid and the thinking lively. I love this wry punch: “Government work can be risky indeed. ” I also agree that, being head of the FBI for fifty years, gave Hoover astonishing power, the “permanent government” through many changes in presidencies and many social changes. Yet it’s the artists who remain and endure. And how ironic to now have a government that is so right wing that it denounces the FBI. “Ironic” is too soft a word. And yet again, we are in an era where the art of people of color–African American, Latinx, Asian American–is absolutely stunning. Thanks for such a great blog.

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