Black Studies Comparative Literature

Freshman (College 1st year) ・Education ・MLA

'Black Literature': A Historical and Cultural Perspective

‘Black literature’ is a phrase that is occasionally expressed as African American literature, and it dates back to the 18th century when slavery was rife. The slaves were pressured to forge a new language and literature that is unique with the objective of portraying slavery as an inhuman and immoral practice. At some point, Black Literature evolved from a political device to an artistic one where poets, exquisite track writers, and expressive artists would aim to indulge and impress their audiences. This period additionally known as the Harlem Renaissance was a time of expressing the realities of the lives of African Americans. Even with the major adjustments and transformations evident through its evolution, Black Literature is similar in terms of its elements including cultural politics, literary traditions, racial aspects, and social experiences.

A Unique Characteristic

A unique characteristic of the Black Literature is that it speaks to people from the African American descent that were connected through the institution of slavery and segregation. In lieu to this, numerous literary works talk about the struggle of individuals to understand their position in a world dominated by White Supremacy. The characters that flood most stories, poems, and songs were used to highlight the marginalization of the African Americans. Poetry and drama were popular during the evolution of Black Literature because they were highly accessible to large masses.For most artists, literature was an effective tool for empowering the people.

The Power of Language and Cultural Traditions

Black Literature recognizes the supremacy of speech especially in conserving cultural hegemony. Thus one of the major connotations evident in Black Literature is evident in the use of cultural traditions such as oral tales and jazz and Blues music. The African American bourgeois thus used words for purposes of maintaining social strength and association. The oral concept is quite common in most African American literature and this is a culture that was passed on from the African communities. Grandparents would verbally give folk tales to their grandchildren as a way of maintaining cultural hegemony.

Music and Its Influence

Music, especially jazz and blues genre, were common in the Black Literature even decades after the Harlem Renaissance. The language and rhythms used in such music had a cultural aspect to them. For example, the use of circularity and repetition as a way of stressing a point was commonplace. These elements were carried onto sermons in churches frequented by African Americans during that time and poems. Poets such as Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes are known to use these literary devices. Blues and jazz would employ an improvisational and non-linear structure. The short pauses and continuous beats used together with such a structure enabled groups to participate in them thus the element of social connection. For example, Toni Morrison’s work was non-linear and thus gave the audience some form of freedom to join into the performance.

Language as Culture and Empowerment

Language was poetic in form having a hidden meaning, and most writers would use it to try and vindicate their culture. All Black Literature is written in English, a language considered as one belonging to the oppressor. However, authors of African American descent tried to use vernacular English by adding jibes of their version of the original language. For example, The Color Purple written by Alice Walker contains vernacular English in most parts. Authors would try to include vernacular English (a language that developed from the blending of African languages and English) so as to reach their intended audience. Most of the white people would not grasp the language. It was also a sign of social cohesion developed through the blending of nationalities. In a way, this new creole of the English language was a tool of empowerment and it helped minimize rebelliousness.

Defining 'Blackness' and the African American Experience

With the use of specialized language and other aspects came the issue of ‘blackness’ where some authors were considered black enough and thus qualified to write Black Literature. After the Harlem Renaissance and during the period of Realism and Modernism, authors from other communities came up with literature where they would use African American characters. This has been a central issue in the debate on what Black Literature entails. Considering that the main aim of Black Literature is to empower the African Americans, most scholars believe that only a person who has gone through this experience can write Black Literature. The argument is that authors from the white community who use African Americans as their protagonists tend to give characters attributes that are from the white culture. The aspect of ‘blackness’ is still unresolved but the main consensus so far is that it makes a lot of sense to write on an experience that one can relate.

Slavery and Freedom: Themes in Black Literature

One of the commonest social experiences evident in Black Literature is slavery which goes hand in hand with freedom. Way before the Harlem Renaissance and the period after that, African American writers were concerned with spreading messages against the vice of slavery. A connection was made between this element and the aspect of antagonism against tyranny. Authors, poets, and other artists created literature that was used to question slavery as an institution. To them, literacy was synonymous with freedom and they kept appealing to the Christian creed of humanity.

Intersectionality and Identity

The aspect of slavery is what brought the aspect of intersectionality portraying slavery as an institution aimed at annihilating family matters. All slaves were separated by a destructive and complex system that fragmented a whole. Black Literature is analogous to the quilt that brings about the aspect of bonding and identity. All authors of African American descent aim to create acculturation even with the split identity of being Africans who are also Americans. Severally, these writers will mention aspects of their homeland, culture, and traditions. Using this approach, they are highly instrumental in filling the gaps left by slavery. That is why African Americans is a culture even today and literature is highly effective in creating that intersection between being an American and an African at the same time. The split identity is sort of gotten rid of through Black Literature.

The Short Story 'Red Hot Peppers' and Its Sociocultural Themes

The short story Red Hot Peppers by Patrick Chamoiseau is full of concepts depicting the systems of hierarchy, race, gender differences, and the impact of cultural traditions. Using his sophisticated mix of language and literary devices, Chamoiseau uses Anastasia and Zozor to bring out some of these elements that are mostly evident in literature written by authors of black descent. Zozor Alcide-Victor is a biracial child, the product of a Syrian man and an African woman. Zozor’s mother was a servant at his father’s house. Anastasia is a child of African American descent who sells potato curls together with her mother called Mom Gaul. The relationship that develops between these two characters brings about the major differences in culture and its impacts in the society.

Hierarchal Differences and Racial Conceptions

In this passionate story, Chamoiseau makes it evident that there is a major hierarchal difference between people of varied colors. For example, he paints most of the black folk as being poor and struggling. He says that if Zozor did not have his fabric shop, he would have to beg for bread from the dogs. They rely on people whose skin color is different from theirs simply to make a living. For example, Mom Gaul and Anastasia have to purchase their potatoes from the China man. The potato selling business must be much larger and it is doing well from the fact that the China man would dispense several sacks of potatoes to his clients. The idea here is that such large businesses are owned by people from the white race. Black color is associated with poverty; a common conception held by many people even in literary devices.

Cultural Differences and Their Impact on Society

The life of Zozor indicates the aspects of cultural differences and identities, and the way it impacts the society. When his mother got pregnant with the child of a Syrian man, the community opted to have her thrown out. People of African community were considered of lower value and thus having a biracial child within the community was not allowed. In fact, Zozor’s father even made it clear that he would never allow the child to take up his name. Instead of sticking to the woman he claimed to love unconditionally, Zozor’s father was affected by his culture negatively. He decided to have his child and mother thrown out of his house. That way, he would not have to suffer the shame of being with a person of African ancestry. These are common occurrences in most African American communities as biracial children are stigmatized mostly by people from the white communities.

Gender Roles and Perception

Females are presented as the weaker sex who needs protection from any form of harm. Mom Gaul hated Zozor because he was biracial and he wanted to date Anastasia. For example, when he found them together, he referred to Zozor as “a pig of a monkey dog”. A monkey’s fur is darker and that of a pig is bright-colored. Perhaps she was trying to make it clear that she did not like him because he was biracial. She also does not like rabs because she sees them as monkey dogs. She then goes ahead and asks Zozor to leave Anastasia whom she describes as her ‘little girl’ alone. The phrase ‘my little girl’ indicates weakness. Females are normally depicted as being small, meek, and sort of weak in literature.

Race and Hierarchy in Relationships

Anastasia’s choice for Zozor indicates the differences in the hierarchal systems brought about by race. Pepi loved Anastasia unconditionally and even brought her presents. Mom Gaul did not resent him as much as he resented Zozor. However, Anastasia chased away Pepi immediately Zozor started showing her interest after g=he left her without explaining his perception. Perhaps Zozor was of higher value in Anastasia’s eyes than Pepi. Immediately Mom Gaul dies Anastasia is forced to go back to the cycle of poverty as she has to continue selling the fries. Chamoiseau makes it clear that she was breaking her back. This phrase indicates extreme hard work that only becomes necessary when there are limited options.

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