Woolgathering/Just Kids

Woolgathering By Patti Smith

A New Directions Book  1992

The Woolgatherers

“And the image of the woolgatherers in that sleepy field drew me to sleep as well. And I wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind” (12).

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

HarperCollinsPublishers  2010  New York

I read this book in tandem with Patricia Morrisroe’s biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. I was interested to see if any of the stories collided. They were obviously different works with Patti writing from first person and Mapplethorpe being a biography. Patti focuses her work, Just Kids, on the friendship between Mapplethorpe and herself, mythologizing along the way about both of their personas. I often felt like Patti was working to appear stranger and more quirky than perhaps was actually her true self. Morrisroe’s Mapplethorpe biography did not focus on the friendship, for its target is Robert himself. Whereas the Mapplethorpe biography (to be summarized in a separate piece) does not shy away from the decadent details of sexual exploration pre-and-inside the AIDS epidemic, Smith engages in very little discussion of Mapplethorpe’s twisted sexual proclivities. It feels as if she wanted his focus to remain on her as muse rather than face the harsh reality that she was simply another stepping-stone to Mapplethorpe’s promotion of his outsized ego. 

Monday’s Children

“On one such day, limping back to the home front beneath the anvil of the su, I was accosted by my mother.

“‘Patricia,’ my mother scolded, ‘put a shirt one!’

“‘It’s too hot,’ I moaned. ‘No one else has one on.’

“‘Hot or not, it’s time you started wearing a shirt. You’re about to become a young lady.’ I protested vehemently and announced that I was never going to become anything but myself, that I was of the clan of Peter Pan and we did not grow up” (10).

“I’m certain, as we filed down the great staircase, that I appeared the same as ever, a moping twelve-year-old, all arms and legs. But secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not” (11).

Of Mapplethorpe she writes: “The light fell upon the pages of his coloring book, across his child’s hands. Coloring excited him, not the act of filling in space, but choosing colors that no one else would select. In the green of the hills he saw red. Purple snow, green skin, silver sun. He liked the effect it had on others, that it distrurbed his siblings. He discovered he had a talent for sketching. He was a natural draftsman and secretly he twisted and abstracted his images, feeling his growing powers. He was an artist, and he knew it. It was not a childish notion. He merely acknowledged what was his” (13).

“No one expected me. Everything awaited me” (25).

“We piled the best leaves on the bread and happily ate.

“‘A real prison breakfast,’ I said.

“‘Yeah, but we are free.’

“And that summed it up” (28).

“When it got really rough, I would go back to Pratt, occasionally bumping into someone I knew who would let me shower and sleep a night. Or else I would sleep in the hall near a familiar door. That wasn’t much fun, but I had my mantra, ‘I’m free, I’m free.’ Although after several days, my other mantra, ‘I’m hungry, I’m hungry,’ seemed to be in the forefront. I wasn’t worried, though. I just needed a break and I wasn’t going to give up. I dragged my plaid suitcase from stoop to stoop, trying not to wear out my unwelcome.

“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of ‘Crystal Ship.’ Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played ‘Ode to Billie Joe.’ There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life” (31).  She meets Robert Mapplethorpe.

Just Kids

“But Robert, wishing to shed his Catholic yoke, delved into another side of the spirit, reigned over by the Angel of Light. The image of Lucifer, the fallen angel, came to eclipse the saints he used in his collages and varnished onto boxes. On one small wooden box, he applied the face of Christ; inside, a Mother and Child with a tiny white rose; and in the inner lid, I was surprised to find the face of the Devil, with his extended tongue.

“I would return home to find Robert in brown monk’s cloth, a Jesuit robe he had found in a thrift store, poring over pamphlets on alchemy and magic. He asked me to bring him books slanted toward the occult. At first he didn’t read these books so much as utilize their pentagrams and satanic images, deconstructing and refiguring them. He was not evil, though as darker elements infused his work, he became more silent.

“He grew interested in creating visual spells, which might serve to call up Satan, like one would a genie. He imagined if he could make a pact that accessed Satan’s purest self, the self of the light, he would recognize a kindred soul, and that Satan would grant him fame and fortune. He did not have to ask for greatness, for the ability to be an artist, because he believed he already had that” (62-3).

“Robert was cutting out sideshow freaks from an oversized paperback on Tod Browning. Hermaphrodites, pinheads, and Siamese twins were scattered everywhere. It threw me, for I couldn’t see a connection between these images and Robert’s recent preoccupation with magic and religion” (67).

“It was in that spirit that we would go to Coney Island to visit the sideshows. We had looked for Hubert’s on Forty-second Street, which had featured Snake Princess Wago and a flea circus, but it had closed in 1965. We did find a small museum that had body parts and human embryos in specimen jars, and Robert got fixated on the idea to use something of that sort in an assemblage. He asked around where he might find something of that sort, and a friend told him about the ruins of the old City Hospital on Welfare (later Roosevelt) Island.”

“We went from room to room and saw shelves of medical specimens in their glass jars. Many were broken, vandalized by visiting rodents. Robert combed each room until he found what he was looking for, an embryo swimming in formaldehyde within a womb of glass.

“We all had to agree that Robert would most likely make great use of it. He clutched the precious find on the journey home. Even in his silence, I could feel his excitement and anticipation, imagining how he could make it work as art” (68).

“In early June, Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol” (69).

“In response I made a collage drawing for him called My Hustler, where I used one of his letters as a component. Even as he reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, he seemed to be moving deeper into the sexual underworld that he was portraying in his art. He seemed to be attracted to S&M imagery–’I’m not sure what that all means–just know it’s good’–and described to me works titled Tight Fucking Pants, and drawings in which he lacerated S&M characters with a matte knife. ‘I have a hook coming out of where his prick should be, where I’m gonna hang that chain with dice and skulls from it.’ He spoke of using bloody bandages and starred patches of gauze.

“He wasn’t merely jerking off. He was filtering this world through his own aesthetic, criticizing a movie called Male Magazine as ‘nothing more than an exploitation film using an all male cast.’ When he visited the Tool Box, and S&M bar, he felt it was ‘just a bunch of big chains and shit on the wall, nothing really exciting,’ and wished he could design a place like that.

“As the weeks went on, I worried that he wasn’t doing well. It wasn’t like him to complain about his physical condition. ‘My mouth is sick,’ he wrote, ‘my gums are white and achy.’ He sometimes didn’t have enough money to eat.

“His P.S. was still filled with Robert bravado. ‘I’ve been accused of dressing like a hustler, having the mind of a hustler and the body of one” (84). [Well…if it looks, sounds and walks like a duck…]

Hotel Chelsea

“I’m in Mike Hammer mode, puffing on Kools reading cheap detective novels sitting in the lobby waiting for William Burroughs. He comes in dressed to the nines in a dark gabardine overcoat, gray suit, and tie. I sit for a few hours at my post scribbling poems. He comes stumbling out of the El Quixote a bit drunk and disheveled. I straighten his tie and hail him a cab. It’s our unspoken routine.

“In between I clock the action. Eyeing the traffic circulating the lobby hung with bad art. Big invasive stuff unloaded on Stanley Bard in exchange for rent. The hotel is an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder. Guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses. Junkie poets, playwrights, broke-down filmmakers, and French actors. Everybody passing through here is somebody, if nobody in the outside world.

“The elevator is slowgoing. I get off at the seventh floor to see if Harry Smith is around. I place my hand on the doorknob, sensing nothing but silence. The yellow walls have an institutional feel like a middle school prison. I use the stairs and return to our room. I take a piss in the hall bathroom we share with unknown inmates. I unlock our door. No sign of Robert save a note on the mirror. Went to big 42nd street. Love you. Blue. I see he straightened his stuff. Men’s magazines neatly piled. The chicken wire rolled and tied and the spray cans lined in a row under the sink.

“I fire up the hot plate. Get some water from the tap. You got to let it run for a while as it comes out brown. It’s just minerals and rust, so Harry says. My stuff is in the bottom drawer. Tarot cards, silk ribbons, a jar of Nescafe, and my own cup–a childhood relic with the likeness of Uncle Wiggly, rabbit gentleman. I drag my Remington from under the bed, adjust the ribbon, and insert a fresh sheet of foolscap. There’s a lot to report” (91).

Stanley Bard is the hotel manager. They have Room 1017 for 55 dollars a week to live at the Chelsea Hotel.

“Twenty-third Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues still had a postwar feel” (96).

The Manson murders occur.

“A week or two later I waltzed into the El Quixote looking for Harry and Peggy. It was a bar-restaurant adjacent to the hotel, connected to the lobby by its own door, which made it feel like our bar, as it had been for decades. Dylan Thomas, Terry Southern, Eugene O’Neill, and Thomas Wolfe were among those who had raised one too many a glass there.

“I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde. There were musicians everywhere, sitting before tables laid with mounds of shrimp with green sauce, paella, pitchers of sangria, and bottles of tequila” (105).

“The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were mildly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Virgil Thomson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the successful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums. 

“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively. There were rumors of Oscar Wilde’s trunks languishing in the hull of the oft-flooded basement. Here Dylan Thomas, submerged in poetry and alcohol, spent his last hours. Thomas Wolfe plowed through hundreds of pages of manuscript that formed You Can’t Go Home Again. Bob Dylan composed ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ on our floor, and a speeding Edie Sedgwick was said to have set her room on fire while gluing on her thick false eyelashes by candlelight.

“So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars” (112-3).

“This mission led us to the city’s Bermuda Triangle: Brownie’s, Max’s Kansas City, and the Factory had moved from its original location on Forty-seventh Street to 33 Union Square. Brownie’s was a health food restaurant around the corner where the Warhol people ate lunch, and Max’s where they spent their nights.”

“Max’s Kansas City was on Eighteenth Street and Park Avenue South. It was supposedly a restaurant, though few of us actually had the money to eat there. The owner, Mickey Ruskin, was notoriously artist-friendly, even offering a free cocktail-hour buffet for those with the price of a drink. It was said that this buffet, which included Buffalo wings, kept a lot of struggling artists and drag queens alive. I never frequented it as I was working and Robert, who didn’t drink, was too proud to go.

“There was a big black-and-white awning flanked by a bigger sign announcing that you were about to enter Max’s Kansas City. It was casual and sparse, adorned with large abstract pieces of art given to Mickey by artists who ran up supernatural bar tabs. Everything, save the white walls, was red: booths, tablecloths, napkins. Even their signature chickpeas were served in little red bowls. The big draw was surf and turf: steak and lobster. The back room, bathed in red light, was Robert’s objective, and the definitive target was the legendary round table that still harbored the rose-colored aura of the absent silver king.

“On our first visit we only made it as far as the front section. We sat in a booth and split a salad and ate the inedible chickpeas. Robert and Sandy ordered Cokes. I had a coffee.The place was fairly dead. Sandy had experienced Max’s at the time when it was the social hub of the subterranean universe, when Andy Warhol passively reigned over the round table with his charismatic ermine queen, Edie Sedgwick. The ladies-in-waiting were beautiful, and the circulating knights were the likes of Ondine, Donald Lyons, Rauschenberg, Dali, Billy Name, Lichtenstein, Gerard Malanga, and John Chamberlain. In recent memory the round table had seated such royalty as Bob Dylan, Bob Neuwirth, Nico, Tim Buckley, Janis Joplin, Viva, and the Velvet underground. It was as darkly glamorous as one could wish for. But running through the primary artery, the thing that ultimately accelerated their world and then took them down, was speed. Amphetamine magnified their paranoia, robbed some of their innate powers, drained their confidence, and ravaged their beauty” (116-7).

“We drew on everything from Butterfield 8 to the French New Wave. She shot the stills from our imagined movies. Although I didn’t smoke, I would pocket a few of Robert’s Kools to achieve a certain look. For our Blaise Cendrars shots we needed thick smoke, for our Jeanne Moreau a black slip and a cigarette.

“When I showed him Judy’s prints, Robert was amused by my personas. ‘Patti, you don’t smoke,’ he’d say, tickling me. ‘Are you stealing my cigarettes?’ I thought he would be annoyed, since cigarettes were expensive, but the next time I went to Judy’s, he surprised me with the last couple from his battered pack.

“‘I know I’m a fake smoker,’ I would say, ‘but I’m not hurting anybody and besides I gotta enhance my image.’ It was all for Jeanne Moreau” (125).

“I looked around at everyone bathed in the blood light of the back room. Dan Flavin had conceived his installation in response to the mounting death toll of the war in Vietnam. No one in the back room was slated to die in Vietnam, though few would survive the cruel plagues of a generation” (127).

Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university” (138).

“‘I don’t want to sing. I just want to write songs for him. I want to be a poet, not a singer’” (142).

“Memento mori. It means ‘Remember we are mortal’” (155).

I call my granddaughter LouLou, so this next passage stood out to me: “I liked Loulou, a charismatic redhead who was the celebrated muse of Yves Saint Laurent, the daughter of a Schiaparelli model and a French count. She wore a heavy African bracelet, and when she unclasped it, there was a red string tied around her tiny wrist, placed there, she said, by Brian Jones” (156).

“Michael Pollard was usually by her side. They were like adoring twins, both with the same speech patterns, punctuating each sentence with man. I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments” (159).

“It was an infamous address, having housed the Film Guild Cinema in the twenties, and a raucous country-western club hosted by Rudy Vallee in the thirties. The great abstract expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hoffman had a small school on the third floor through the forties and fifties, preaching to the likes of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning. In the sixties it housed the Generation Club, where Jimi Hendrix used to hang out, and when it closed he took over the space and built a state-of-the-art studio in the bowels of 52 Eighth Street” (168).

“I was excited to go. I put on my straw hat and walked downtown, but when I got there, I couldn’t bring myself to go in. By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and ginned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed solely and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.

“‘The language of peace. You dig?’ I did.

“I can’t remember if I actually went into the studio, but Jimi never accomplished his dream. In September I went with my sister and Annie to Paris. Sandy Daley had an airline connection and helped us get cheap tickets. Paris had already changed ina year, as had I. It seemed as if the whole of the world was slowly being stripped of innocence. Or maybe I was seeing a little too clearly.

“As we walked down the boulevard Montparnasse I saw a headline that filled me with sorrow: Jimi Hendrix est mort. 27 ans. I knew what the words meant” (169).

“But the next night we would meet in Johnny’s room to console one another again. I wrote but two words in my diary: Janis Joplin. For she had died of an overdose in room 105 of the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles, twenty-seven years old” (170).

Holy Modal Rounders

“It was like being at an Arabian hoedown with a band of psychedelic hillbillies. I fixed on the drummer, who seemed as if he was on the lam and had slid behind the drums while the cops looked elsewhere. Toward the end of their set he sang a song called ‘Blind Rage,’ and as he slammed the drums, I thought, This guy truly embodies the heart and soul of rock and roll. He had beauty, energy, animal magnetism” (171). That man turned out to be Sam Shepard “the biggest playwright off-Broadway. He had a play at Lincoln Center. He won five Obies!”

“I was also writing more pieces for rock magazines–Crawdaddy, Circus, Rolling Stone. This was a time when the vocation of a music journalist could be an elevated pursuit. Paul Williams, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, and Sandy Pearlman were some of the writers I held in esteem. I modeled myself after Baudelaire, who wrote some of the great idiosyncratic critiques of nineteenth-century art and literature” (178).

“I wanted to infuse the written word with the immediacy and frontal attack of rock and roll” (180).

…”but then I remembered Lenny Kaye had said he played electric guitar. I went to see him.”

“With a nod to Brecht, I decided to open the reading singing ‘Mack the Knife.’ Lenny played along” (181).

“We finished with ‘Ballad of a Bad Boy’ accompanied by Lenny’s strong rhythmic chords and electric feedback. It was the first time an electric guitar had been played in St. Mark’s Church, provoking cheers and jeers. As this was hallowed ground for poetry, some objected, but Gregory was jubilant.”


“I was bombarded with offers stemming from my poetry reading. Creem magazine agreed to publish a suite of my poems; there were proposed readings in London and Philadelphia; a chapbook of poems for Middle Earth Books; and a possible record contract with Steve Paul’s Blue Sky Records. At first this was flattering, and then seemed embarrassing. It was a more extreme reaction than had greeted my haircut” (182).

“I thought of something I learned from reading Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz. Crazy Horse believes that he will be victorious in battle, but if he stops to take spoils from the battlefield, he will be defeated. He tattoos lightning bolts on the ears of his horses so the sight of them will remind him of this as he rides. I tried to apply this lesson to the things at hand, careful not to take spoils that were not rightfully mine” (183).

“When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. ‘I can’t do this,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what to say.’

“‘Say anything,’ he said. ‘You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.’

“‘What if I mess it up> What if I screw up the rhythm?’

“‘You can’t,’ he said. ‘It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.’

“In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life” (185).

“An important new presence entered Robert’s life. David had introduced Robert to the curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. John McKendry was married to Maxime de la Falaise, a leading figure in New York’s high society. John and Maxime provided Robert with an entrance into a world that was as glamorous as he could have wished for. Maxime was an accomplished cook and hosted elaborate dinner parties where she served obscure dishes taken from her knowledge of centuries of English cooking. For every sophisticated course presented, there was equally well-spiced repartee served up by her guests. Those typically seated at her table: Bianca Jagger, Marisa and Berry Berenson, Tony Perkins, George Plimpton, Henry Geldzahler, Diane and Prince Egon von Furstenberg” (189).

“Being allowed to lift the tissues from these photographs, actually touch them and get a sense of the paper and the hand of the artist, made an enormous impact on Robert. He studied them intently–the paper, the process, the composition, and the intensity of the blacks. ‘It’s really all about light,’ he said” (190).

“I never anticipated Robert’s complete surrender to its powers. I had encouraged him to take photographs to integrate into his collages and installation, hoping to see him assume the mantle of Duchamp. But Robert had shifted his focus. The photograph was not a means to an end, but the object itself. Hovering over all of this was Warhol, who seemed to both excite and paralyze him.

“Robert was determined to do something Andy had not yet done. He had defaced Catholic images of the Madonna and Christ; he had introduced physical freaks and S&M imagery into his collages. But where Andy had seen himself as a passive observer, Robert would eventually insert himself into the action. He would participate in and document that which he had previously only been able to approximate through magazine imagery.

“He began to branch out, photographing those he met through his complex social life, the infamous and the famous, from Marianne Faithfull to a young tattooed hustler. But he always returned to his muse. I no longer felt that I was the right model for him, but he would wave my objections away. He saw in me more than I could see in myself. Whenever he peeled the image from the Polaroid negative, he would say, ‘With you I can’t miss’” (192).

Separate Ways Together

“It seemed like Allen was always on the road with Blue Oyster Cult…”(213).

Todd Rundgren and Bebe Buell  [We now know what this coupling produced]

Holding Hands With God

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

A Norton Critical Edition Trans. Paul De Man New York  1965

I can tell I read this book long ago because my reading note style has changed significantly since then. There were no end-of-chapter summaries which I incorporate now. The best bits were marked in highlighter which I find fades over the years. I caught up with plot twists by writing in pencil in very small lettering in the margins. Now I write in pen as long as the ink doesn’t seep through to the other side. I didn’t even write my name inside the front cover which I do now along with the season and year in which I completed the read. I wasn’t sure there would be enough material to share, but some of these lines are wonderful. I know I read this during the time before I’d read the intro or preface thinking it unnecessary and boring; it is not. I also did not read any of the critical reflections on the work afterward. If I were doing a serious college paper on Madame Bovary I would read all the critical works provided in the back of the book. Madame Bovary was first printed in 1857 and was originally written in French. At the time it was seen as scandalous and in need of censors.

“He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look that made it almost interesting” (7).

“For him the universe did not extend beyond the silky circumference of her petticoat” (24).

“This nature, positive in the midst of its enthusiasms, that had loved the church for the sake of the flowers, and music for the words of the songs, and literature for the passions it excites, rebelled against the mysteries of faith as it had rebelled against discipline, as something alien to her constitution” (28).

“Perhaps she would have liked to confide all these things to some one. But how tell an undefinable uneasiness, changing as the clouds, unstable as the winds? Words failed her and, by the same token, the opportunity, the courage” (29).

About the baby: “Thus she did not amuse herself with those preparations that stimulate the tenderness of mothers, and so her affection was perhaps impaired from the start” (63).

Because he is not the jealous type, Charles thinks nothing of Leon spending time with Emma. “Wasn’t the husband also a part of her after all” (71)?

Emma is praising Charles to Leon…out of nervousness? Charles is late and is due any minute. This irritates Leon.

Charles becomes the representation of her unfulfilled dreams: “What exasperated her was that Charles did not seem to be aware of her torment. His conviction that he was making her happy looked to her a stupid insult, and his self-assurance of this point sheer ingratitude. For whom, then, was she being virtuous? Was it not for him, the obstacle to all happiness, the cause of all misery, and, as it were, the sharp clasp of that complex strap that buckled her in all sides” (77)?

Emma meets Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger who wants her, but only for an affair: “‘I think he is very stupid. She must be tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn’t shaven for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there mending socks. How bored she gets! How she’d want to be in the city and go dancing every night! Poor little woman! She is gaping after love like a carp on the kitchen table after water. Three gallant words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it. She’d be tender, charming. Yes; but how get rid of her afterwards’ (93)? He plans his strategy to use her.

By page 117, Emma and Rodolphe do the nasty.

The first thing Rodolphe does to slow things down: “‘What is wrong?’ she said. ‘Are you ill? Tell me!’

“He ended up declaring earnestly that her visits were too dangerous and that she was compromising herself” (118). 

There is regret and more regret.

When Charles was at his lowest Emma rejected him. She hates his existence. 

Uh-oh! Now the shop man knows Emma is having an affair! Emma begins to change and become more bold.

The shop man now knows she is planning to run away. The closer they get to their escape, the more Rodolphe understands this will be a mistake.

Although he was a womanizer, Emma regrets not being a man.

Another regret: “All her attempts at critical detachment were swept away by the poetic power of the acting, and, drawn to the man by the illusion of the part, she tried to imagine his life–extraordinary, magnificent, notorious, the life that could have been hers if fate had willed it. If only they had met! He would have loved her, they would have travelled together through all the kingdoms of Europe from capital to capital, sharing in his success and in his hardships, picking up the flowers thrown to him, mending his clothes” (163).

They see Leon at the opera. She is so easily swayed by the moment that it is pathetic!

Charles is absolutely oblivious to the motives of other men.

Charles puts even his grief for his own father’s death behind him for Emma.

Emma wants power of attorney in order to manage Charles’s inheritance.

Emma stays out all night…BRAZEN!

“One must not touch one’s idols, a little of the gilt always comes off on one’s fingers” (205).

“Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile concealed a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight” (206).

Since Leon does not show with the money, Emma, at the last minute, thinks of Rodolphe.

You will have to read the novel to find how it ends!

The Norton Edition includes:

Earlier Versions of Madame Bovary 

“Structures of Imagery in Madame Bovary” by D. L. Demorest

“On Rereading Madame Bovary” by Albert Beguin

Biographical Sources:

“The Real Source of Madame Bovary” by Rene Dumesnil

“Flaubert and Madame Bovary: Outline of a New Method” by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Letters about Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

Essays in Criticism:

Contemporary Reactions:

By Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

By Charles Baudelaire

Stylistic Studies:

“Style and Morality in Madame Bovary” by Henry James

“The Craft of Fiction in Madame Bovary” by Percy Lubbock

“Flaubert’s Language” by W. Von Wartburg

Thematic Studies:

“On the ‘Inner Environment’ in the Work of Flaubert” by Charles Du Bos

Madame Bovary” by Albert Thibaudet

“The Realism of Flaubert” by Erich Auerback

“The Circle and the Center: Reality and Madame Bovary” by Georges Poulet

Madame Bovary: the Cathedral and the Hospital” by Harry Levin

“Love and Memory in Madame Bovary” by Jean Pierre Richard

Madame Bovary: Flaubert’s Anti-Novel” by Jean Rousset

Selected Bibliography

Pictures From an Institution

A Comedy

By Randall Jarrell

This book has been on my shelf for years. The paper cover is pretty battered and the colors are drab and boring. From the title and the cover, I assumed Jarrell had taken notes on various patients in a mental institution, perhaps in the 1950s or ‘60s. None of those things could be further from the hilarity that is this story. If I would have known it was about professors at a small girls college I would have read it a decade ago! The writing style is so lyrical and poetic that I had to look up Randall Jarrell. It all came to make sense when I found out he was a real-life poet! As you know, I like to share “the best bits” by transcribing the most beautiful, touching, joyous or heartbreaking lines, but the language in this book is so off-the-charts that I would have had to mark every line. I had to stop. If you are a professor, a lover of poetry, comedy or spot-on scathing character sketches, you must read this book!

Meridian Fiction  New York  1960

Randall Jarrell was born on May 6, 1914, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was educated at Vanderbilt University and has distinguished himself as poet, critic, novelist, and teacher. He has taught at various colleges, including Princeton, and has been poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Jarrell has published five volumes of poetry; a book of criticism, and edited an anthology of short stories.

  1. The President Mrs., and Derik Robbins

It is Constance Morgan’s last day as assistant to the secretary. 

“…her features, as far as one could distinguish them, were undistinguished” (5).

Gertrude had been teaching at the college. Constance listens to Gertrude and President Robbins as they say goodbye.

“Gertrude and the President’s Friendship at First Sight had lasted only until they took a second look at each other. After this look Gertrude no longer felt as if she had just taken a drink, but felt as if she had a long time ago taken a great many: that look awoke both of them from their amicable slumbers.

“What a pity it was that that party had ever been given! –the party that brought with it their first terrible quarrel, a quarrel that ended their friendship after eleven days. Without the party, they both felt bitterly, it might have lasted for weeks. One could not help blaming Gertrude a little more than one blamed the President; the President, like most people, behaved in a different way after he had a great deal to drink, but Gertrude, knowing no other, behaved as she always behaved. But the drinks at the party, the almost unavoidable intimacies at the party, what they had said and what Mrs. Robbins had said and what people had said they all of them had said at the party–these, the memory of these, made Gertrude and the President look narrowly at each other, and their eyes widened at what they saw. George looked at the dragon and thought, Why, that woman’s a dragon; and the dragon looked at George and thought, That’s no man, that’s an institution” (7).

A very fun description of the novelist, Gertrude Johnson, who is leaving.

Who could explain President Robbin’s marriage?

“People did not like Mrs. Robbins, Mrs. Robbins did not like people; and neither was sorry.”

“Often, when you have met a true Englishwoman–the false ones are sometimes delightful–you feel that God himself could go no further, that way. Mrs. Robbins existed to show what he could do if he tried” (11).

“To hear her was to be beginning to despair” (13).

Mrs. Robbins’s horrid personality. Later in the book I began to realize that most of the text is description of character. Not much actually happens; therefore, chapter summaries became less and less frequent.

President Robbins has illusions about himself. There is the thought that only some people are very important. Derek is the president’s son and he is kind of odd.

President Benton is a slick orator, good at raising funds, and different than us.

“Not to have given him what he asked, they felt, would have been to mine the bridge that bears the train that carries the supply of this year’s Norman Rockwell Boy Scout Calendars. They felt this; it seems far-fetched to me” (27).

Did Gertrude go on to write lies about President Robbins in her next novel?

  1. The Whittakers and Gertrude

Couples attend a party at Gertrude’s house.

“People say that conversation is a lost art: how often I have wished it were” (41)!

“Gertrude didn’t want conversation, she wanted an audience” at the dinner party.

“…she was so thin you could have recognized her skeleton. Sometimes it seemed to you that she was not a person, not a thing, but an idea, and a mistaken one at that. A badly mistaken one: she always said not the wrong but the wrongest, the most wrongest thing–language won’t express it” (44).

“When well-dressed woman met Flo they looked at her as though they couldn’t believe it. She looked as if she had waked up and found herself dressed–as if her clothes had come together by chance and involved her, an innocent onlooker, in the accident. If a dress had made her look better than she really did, she would have felt guilty; but she had never had such a dress” (45).

“In the classroom, where Dr. Whittaker was almost as much at home as in his study, this would not have happened; there each sentence lived its appointed term, died mourned by its people, and was succeeded by a legitimate heir” (50).

There are hilarious descriptions of Flo and others and a dinner party at which no one ate. Gertrude disparages the South from which she still keeps an accent. How Gertrude feels about the music teacher. We meet Gertrude’s devoted husband, Sidney.

  1. Miss Batterson and Benton

Miss Batterson was an earlier creative writing teacher.

The teaching philosophy and life at Benton.

“Benton was, all in all, a surprisingly contented place. The people who weren’t contented got jobs elsewhere–as did, usually, any very exceptional people–and the others stayed. They didn’t need to be exceptional: they were at Benton. One felt that they felt that all they had to do was say, “I’m at Benton,’ and their hearer would say, raising his hand: ‘Enough!’” (105).

We learn why Benton is the subject of Gertrude’s novel. Miss Batterson got a better job but soon died. There is a funeral.

How the Rosenbaums live; very European. The narrator recalls a story told by Miss Batterson about her father.

  1. Constance and The Rosenbaums

Gertrude looks at life as fodder for her novels.

Dr. Rosenbaum’s wife and Constance’s friendship with the Rosenbaums.

“Old faces are forbidding or beautiful for what is expressed in them; in a face that is young enough almost everything but the youth is hidden, so that it is beautiful both for what is there and what cannot yet be there. Constance’s face was a question mark that you looked at and did not want to find an answer for” (146).

Constance and her music. Colleagues talking about home with the Rosenbaums. Irene singing. Constance is upset about the portrayal of the Rosenbaums in Gertrude’s story. The Rosenbaums’ personalities are described.

“…it is better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life” (173).

How Americans are different from Europeans. Irene and her personality.

  1. Gertrude and Sidney

Gertrude was filled with anger she couldn’t understand. The narrator is dropping some work from a student at Gertrude’s. Gertrude takes care of her sick husband.

“But now that she saw she could not possibly get along without Sidney, her trust was shaken. When Sidney found out that she was in his power–if he found out, her heart substituted hastily–what would he do? How could you trust anyone with such power” (206)?

“…if Sidney had come home from work some evening and had said to her, ‘I’m not interested in you any more, Gertrude,’ she would have thought this a disastrous but perfectly reasonable, perfectly predictable thing for him to say–he would simply have come to his senses” (207).

“…she was like a magic sword that is content only as it comes shining from the scabbard” (209).

Gertrude can do without all others, except Sidney.

  1. Art Night

Gertrude is drunk as they head to Art Night.

“Mr. Daudier had a queer look on his face, as if he were a box of mixed nuts, but mostly peanuts…” (242).

  1. They All Go

If you are a teacher and/or love lines that run like crazy poetry, please read this book!

Mama Day

By Gloria Naylor

Vintage Books 1993  312 pages

Naylor was born in New York City in 1950. She is the author of The Women of Brewster Place and Bailey’s Cafe among other works. Pay special attention to the ever-changing narrator; people take turns telling this story. A tip: once you figure out who is speaking, jot their name at the top of the section. 

Sapphira Wade, a true conjure woman, who in 1823, “smothered Bascombe Wade in his very bed and lived to tell the story…”. Had seven sons. “…ain’t Miss Abigail and Mama Day the granddaughters of that seventh boy” (3).

[Legends of the original matriarch: a slave.]

“…18 & 23 at all–was really 81 & 32, which just so happened to be the lines of longitude and latitude marking off where Willow Springs sits on the map. And we were just so damned dumb that we turned the whole thing around” (8).

“Cocoa is like her very own, Mama Day tells him, since she never had no children” (9).

[Section one opens with a chapter about Cocoa.] She is in New York City. [The narrator is the office man, George, telling about his childhood.] 

“It only takes time for a man to grow older, but how many of them grow up” (27)?

[George Andrews and Ophelia (Cocoa) meet at a job interview.] Cocoa tells George that after her cousin and family were lost that she is the only grandchild left. The Linden Hills Christmas fire had claimed cousin Willa, her husband and her son.

[In this chapter we are joined by a third narrator: Great Aunt Miranda, or Mama Day. She describes when Peace died.] “She will see Peace breathing too, at the bottom of the open well, long after her daddy carves the box and they wrap her in white flannel” (36).

“But coming on down to them, it was just her, Abigail, and Peace. And out of them just another three girls, and out of them, two. Three generations of nothing but girls, and only one left alive in this last generation to keep the Days going–the child of Grace” (39).

[A theme emerges of things falling apart.]

“Dr. Buzzard’s pickup truck is missing both fenders and the wheels wobble inward on loose axles; there are so many dents along its side, it’s hard to tell that it was blue at one time. He’s sitting alone behind the wheel, but he’s wearing his beyond-the-bridge clothes…” (46).

“‘Buzzard, I oughta kill you.’ Abigail hugs her granddaughter. ‘My heart almost stopped’” (47).

“Home. It’s being new and old all rolled into one. Measuring your new against old friends, old ways, old places. Knowing that as long as the old survives, you can keep changing as much as you want without the nightmare of waking up to a total stranger” (49).

“‘No, you didn’t have to, but it speaks right well of you that you did. You the only one Abigail’s got left now, with Hope’s child gone’” (50).

[Cocoa loves coming home. She catches up on gossip and Momma Day mixes her up some herbal remedies. For this next scene we have to wonder if George is just a dick:]

“I worked especially late that night, never allowing myself to think about the rationale for any of this. There wasn’t any. I hadn’t done you a favor. I hadn’t felt sorry for a black woman out there up against it looking for a job. I hadn’t thought you the best person for the position. I hadn’t thought at all, not even two weeks later when I sent the roses” (56).

“Well, so much for you, buddy, and your call-me-George. Now, I’m managing the accounts of the man you’re working for. Life goes ‘round, doesn’t it” (57)?

[Mama Day hates to be wrong and doesn’t believe in cuddling. Between grandma and aunt, Cocoa describes the perfect mother.]

“I couldn’t imagine how an evening alone with you and that twelfth rose could be anything but a total downer. I was never in that camp of a night out with someone is better than a night alone. I was someone, and there was always something to do with me” (58).

“It was like when a kid labors over a package–the wrapping paper is poorly glued, the ribbon is half tied–and all of his attention is directed toward that space between the hands that offer and the hands poised to receive. It’s the gesture that holds the heart of the child” (59).

[Wow. That one brings a tear.]

[George and Cocoa’s first date goes horribly, but he asks her out again anyway.]

[The following reminds me of me:]

“‘More than one way to skin a cat. We wouldn’t have to be trying to figure all this out if you’d let her call more often.’

“‘Daddy always said no news is good news. My heart would be pounding every time that phone rang, so I’d rather have her write, if nothing important’s happening.’ Abigail continues her letter” (67).

“‘I guess you qualify as a widow, even though you murdered your first husband.’

“‘Ruby did no such thing.’

“‘She did.’

“The man drowned, Miranda.’

“‘You would, too, if someone hit you in the head with a two-by-four and pushed you off your boat. She told him she was gonna kill him if he kept messing with that little loose gal of Reema’s” (69).

“Miranda kinda blooms when the evening air hits her skin. She stands for a moment watching what the last of the sunlight does to the sky down by The Sound. They say every blessing hides a curse, and every curse a blessing. And with all of the aggravation belonging to a slow fall, it’ll give you a sunset to stop your breath, no matter how long you been on the island. It seems like God reached way down into his box of paints, found the purest reds, the deepest purples, and a dab of midnight blue, then just kinda trailed His fingers along the curve of the horizon and let ‘em all bleed down. And when them streaks of color hit the hush-a-by green of the marsh grass with the blue of The Sound behind ‘em, you ain’t never had to set foot in a church to know you looking at a living prayer” (78).

[This next quote reminds me of my father]

“A bramble scratches her on the face, and a few feet on she trips over a creeper from a sweet bay. No point in cussing, she hears her daddy’s voice. Little Mama, these woods been here before you and me, so why should they get out your way–learn to move around ‘em” (78). [Yes, this is why I keep Kleenex on my desk. Shut up.]

“Daddy, you said live on, didn’t you? Just live on” (88).

[Mama Day never had children, but she has delivered everyone else’s. Frances and Ruby fight over Junior Lee.]

“‘A man don’t leave you unless he wants to go, Frances. And if he’s made up his mind to go, there ain’t nothing you, me, or anybody else can do about that’” (90).

“‘I raised me some decent, Christian children.’

“‘Miracles do happen,’ Miranda says, turning her back. She walks off before Pearl has the chance to take another deep breath; she can keep talking half an hour on just three lungfuls” (94).

Abigail and Miranda are talking when in Miranda’s mind she thinks “She’s thinking of the child she gave to Mother. But I begged her not to do it. She couldn’t put her own guilt to rest by naming her first baby Peace. Peace was gone, I told her. And now Peace is gone again. She only lost one of her babies to Mother, I lost them all. She’s got much less to forgive than me” (95).

Cocoa thinks “I had seen Mama Day do a lot of things out at the other place, and when I told the kids at school they called me a liar” (97).

[Cocoa seems confused by platonic friendship. She learns that George has a girlfriend. George tells Cocoa they are going to renew their commitment (at the same time George and Cocoa are falling in love).]

[The fake world of dating is discussed from a man’s point of view on pages 104-5]

[George and Cocoa seal the deal.]

[The “other place” is mentioned again when Mama Day tells Abigail she should start storing her gifts there.]

[Remembrances of Dad, below:]

“And Miranda says that her daddy, John-Paul, said that in his time Candle Walk was different still. Said people kinda worshipped his grandmother, a slave woman who took her freedom in 1823. Left behind seven sons and a dead master as she walked down the main road, candle held high to light her way to the east bluff over the ocean. Folks in John-Paul’s time would line the main road with candles, food, and slivers of ginger to help her spirit along…And even the youngsters who’ve begun complaining about having no Christmas instead of this ‘old 18 & 23 night’ don’t upset Miranda. It’ll take generations, she says, for Willow Springs to stop doing it at all” (111).

[A friend brings Mama Day a rocking chair that she says is destined for the “other place.” Maranda’s dad and his six brothers are buried on their own land. Her grandfather and his six brothers are there. Peace, Grace, Hope and Peace again. They never found Maranda’s mother’s body.]

[Speaking of the “other place”:]

“Where do folks get things in their head? It’s an old house with a big garden, that’s all. Me and Abigail and Peace was born there. My daddy and his brothers as well. And it’s where my mama sat, rocking herself to death. Folks can get the craziest things in their head. But then again there was the other place, where she was gonna bring Bernice in the spring. Will she see just an old house with a big garden” (118)?

[A bit about ghosts:]

“She tries to listen under the wind. The sound of a long wool skirt passing. Then the tread of heavy leather boots, heading straight for the main road, heading on toward the east bluff over the ocean. It couldn’t be Mother, she died in The Sound. Miranda’s head feels like it’s gonna burst. The candles, food, and slivers of ginger, lining the main road. A long wool skirt passing. Heavy leather boots. And the humming–humming of some lost and ancient song. Quiet tears start rolling down Miranda’s face. Oh, precious Jesus, the light wasn’t for her–it was for him. The tombstone out by Chevy’s Pass. How long did he search for her? Up and down this path. What had daddy said his daddy said about Candle Walk? She was trying too hard, she couldn’t remember. But she’d bring out the rocking chair. Maybe move back here herself after spring. Lord knows, she’d be back in that garden enough come then. And summer, it’d be real pleasant. Listen to the wind from The Sound. Maybe it would come to her. Yes–it just might come to her. Up and down this path, somehow, a man dies from a broken heart” (118).

[Cocoa:]

“George, I was frightened. Can you understand that? Things were going so well between us that I dreaded the day when it would be over. Grown women aren’t supposed to believe in Prince Charmings and happily-ever-afters. Real life isn’t about that–so bring on the clouds. And each day that it was exhilarating and wonderful; each time you’d call unexpectedly just to say, I was thinking about you; each little funny card in the mail or moment in a restaurant when you’d reach over for no reason and squeeze my hand–each of those times, George, I’d feel this underlying panic: when will it end? And it was worse when we were in bed. You’d take me in your arms with such a hunger and tenderness, demanding only that I be pleased, that I’d feel a melting away of places in my body I hadn’t realized were frozen voids. Your touch was slowly making new and alive openings within me and I would lie there warm and weak, listening to you sleep, thinking, What will I do when he’s not here? How will I handle all this space he’s creating without him to fill it?

“And you–you would be so cheerful the mornings after you slept over. Running down to the deli to get us fresh rolls and orange juice. Circling some announcement in the paper for a show we could catch that weekend. Never understanding that it was three whole days until the weekend and my seeing you again. Three days was time enough to settle into what my girlfriends were saying: ‘He sounds too good to be true.’ I’d look around that empty apartment and yes, it had to be that–untrue. You were only part of some vision, or at best a temporary visitor in my life. Too good to be true. Too good to last” (119).

George discusses how easy it is to make a woman think he cares for her. Come over when she calls. Send random Hallmark cards. Cocoa discusses real sharing; personal things she has shared that meant a lot. George gives Cocoa a speech on the difference between being a son of a whore and a son of a bitch. He was the son of a whore who abandoned him and was found washed near a pier near Bailey’s Cafe (131).

“Small places live on small talk, but sometimes the happenings can be too lean for everybody to get enough fat out of it to chew over” (132).

“Trunks and boxes from the other place gave up enough for twenty quilts: corduroy from her uncles, broadcloth from her great-uncles” (137).

Mama Day performs a hoodoo ritual on Bernice so she will become pregnant. “But she wasn’t changing the natural course of nothing, she couldn’t if she tried. Just using what’s there. And couldn’t be nothing wrong in helping Bernice to believe that there’s something more than there is. It’s an old house with a big garden, and it done seen its share of pain. And I’m just an old woman who’ll be waiting in a rocking chair…” [like her mother] (139).

“There’s a lesson in gratitude floating around here somewhere, but it looks like it’s gonna be a while before it settles” (149).

Mama Day refuses to let Cocoa go out and party with her male friends.

There is a wonderful soliloquy on the passing of time on page 158. Four years later, George and Cocoa are still married.

“When you raise a god instead of a child, you’re bound to be serving him for the rest of your days” (162).

“A sow takes better care of her young. And don’t be sitting there whining about a no-good daddy–if he ain’t never here, it means he ain’t stopped you from cleaning this house. And he ain’t the cause of you stuffing this child with white bread and sugar lard to keep him quiet while you’re watching them soap operas. That’s right, cry, you oughta cry. And while you at it, use them tears to water the truck garden you’re gonna start growing with a dollar’s worth of seeds and a little work. Chickens will eat anything you won’t eat–even their own mess–and give you eggs for breakfast to boot. God don’t like ugly” (193-4).

Mama Day and George make a fishing date.

“I know I ain’t giving her credit. Maranda laughs. She done mellowed plenty since this marriage. Soft around the edges without getting too soft at the center. You fear that sometimes for women, that they would just fold up and melt away. She’d seen it happen so much in her time, too much for her to head on into it without thinking. Yes, that one time when she was way, way young. But after that, looking at all the beating, the badgering, the shriveling away from a lack of true touching was enough to give her pause. Not that she mighta hooked up with one of those. And not that any man–even if he tried–coulda ever soaked up the best in her. But who needed to wake up each morning cussing the day just to be sure you still had your voice? A woman shouldn’t have to fight her man to be what she was; he should be fighting that battle for her. It weren’t so in her time, though, and from what these young women tell her, it’s rare to find it now. So a lot of ‘em is waking up like me, except they’re waking up young and alone” (203).

Here’s a bit of brilliance:

“But you wouldn’t have believed me because they never said a word as they sat at that kitchen table chatting away with you retching in the background. But I knew them: idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and you had come home reeking with his brew. There was a soul in that bathroom to be saved with hard work. They were going to demand practically every minute of your day while you would think you were volunteering your butt off. When she puts her mind to it, no one can beat a southern woman at manipulating a man. And these women had been around long enough to take it to the level of art.

“They were much too skilled to honey, sweetheart, or sugar you into anything. On the contrary, you would be told to run off, to rest, to leave them alone with their work. But context would be their masterstroke and versatility their finishing touch. So Grandma starts out talking about her age. This will probably be the last year she’d fool with that garden. Her appetite is hardly what it used to be–why worry about growing beans? More there than she’ll ever use and even too many to give away. A long, long sigh. She’ll just go on up to the store and buy a few old frozen packages of something. She’s a lot better off than them other old people she reads about in the newspapers having to eat cat food. You see, then she totally drops that subject. Goes on to something else, and finally with another long, long sigh, she says that since these beans are already growing, she’ll go through the last hurrah and get out there and tie them up. To grab at her back when she stands up would be a bit too much, so she just shuffles slowly toward the rear porch. And, of course, you volunteer. That’s gentle pity. 

“Mama Day jumps in by the afternoon and uses fierce pride. She waits until she spies you on the porch before dragging that heavy rag rug out to the clothesline. She lets it rail along the ground, stopping several times to hoist it up in her arms. That gives you the time to get across the road with an offer of help that’s flatly and emphatically refused as she struggles unsuccessfully–much too unsuccessfully–to swing it over the line. You get begrudging thanks for insisting that you do it and finally several pointers on the most effective way to beat out the dust. But she’ll keep you supplied with lemonade for your dry throat–at least she ain’t too old and decrepit to squeeze a few lemons. They exchange tactics on the second day and by the third, none are needed. You’ve been allowed to overhear the quiet whispers about how marvelous you are, to witness glimpses of melting awe at the strength of your back, your arms. Yeah, they could lie back now, your ego would take over.

“I guess if I’d really taken those lessons to heart, we could have gotten along better. They had you under their heels and you were purring. But I found treating a grown man like a five-year-old a little nauseating. If they had just come out and said, We want you to help around the house, you would have. As a matter of fact, you would have done it for the remainder of your vacation and not have resented it. That was more my style: Hey, look, keep your tail here and help me. But like I said, they were artists. And they wove the illusion that you were doing more than helping, you were in charge. You wanted to do all those chores. You even thought of things to be done that hadn’t crossed their minds. The fact that you weren’t in charge had absolutely nothing to do with the results: Grandma’s roof got painted, the garden got weeded, Mama Day’s rugs were spotless. And you were too tired to go anywhere. If you only knew, I thought, watching you laughing and talking with them on the porch at night. Grandma shelling boiled peanuts for you, Mama Day rubbing liniment into your sore shoulders. And maybe you did know, but it was what you believed that counted” (216-7).

In the woods Cocoa hears the whispers of ghosts that George can’t hear. They say she is going to break his heart. We learn some more history of the other place. 224-5

“Well, the Scriptures do say it: man was the last thing the Lord made.”

“He shoulda quit while He was ahead.”

“Just letting things crumble apart, ‘cause everybody wants to be right in a world where they ain’t no right or wrong to be found. My side. He don’t listen to my side. She don’t listen to my side. Just like that chicken coop, everything got four sides: his side, her side, an outside, and an inside. All of it is the truth. But that takes a lot of work and young folks ain’t about working heard no more. When getting at the truth starts to hurt, it’s easier to turn away” (230).

Junior Lee puts the moves on Cocoa and Ruby sees him.

“Miranda shakes her head and takes a final look around her garden before she turns her face to the sky. Gray. The color you’d get from blending a bridal dress and a funeral veil” (243).

Little Caesar dies. The poison Ruby plants in Cocoa has begun to take effect.

“There’ll be no redemption for that. She ain’t gotta worry about going on to hell. Hell was right now. Daddy always said that folks misread the Bible. Couldn’t be no punishment worse than having to live here on ear, he said” (261).

Lightning hits Ruby’s house twice and it explodes after Mama Day had turned some hoodoo on her.

“And if you’re worried about us, you can stop. We’re going to be fine because I believe in myself.”

“That’s where folks start, boy–not where they finish up. Yes, I said boy. ‘Cause a man would have grown enough to know that really believing in himself means that he ain’t gotta be afraid to admit there’s some things he just can’t do alone.”

Read the book to find out all the twists and turns!

Gwendolyn Brooks

1917-2000

[Study Notes]

Brooks wanted to write poems that called to all black people. Poems to teach, entertain and illuminate. She used elegant spare rhythms. Through activism, she showed her passionate commitment to making her work available to black people everywhere believing poetry was not the sole province of the privileged, educated few.
Born in Kansas and moved to Chicago where she spent most of her life. Published her first poem at thirteen in American Child magazine. Graduated from high school and was a regular contributor to the weekly variety column of the Chicago Defender. Attended Wilson Junior College and joined Chicago’s NAACP Youth Council. Got married.
Brooks had a child and met a pivotal teacher.
Won the Midwestern Writers’ Conference poetry award in 1943. Approached by Emily Morison of Knopf for a book of poems. A Street in Bronzeville was published in 1945. Followed by Annie Allen (1949), winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize. Maud Martha (1953); and The Bean Eaters (1960). Brooks’s poetry of this period is solidly based in the stuff of everyday life.
1967 was the year of the Second Black Writers’ conference at Nashville’s Fisk University. Brooks was exposed to cultural activists and artists who would fashion the outline of a new black cultural nationalism. Much of Brooks’s subsequent activity was inspired by her experience at Fisk, including the creative writing class that she conducted with some of Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers, a teenage gang. In 1968, she published In the Mecca, with its brilliant closing pieces: the “sermons” on the Warpland.
Brooks’s poetry has several distinctive traits: a stunning juxtaposition of disparate objects and words, masterful control of rhyme and meters, sophisticated use of formal and thematic irony, translation of public events into memorable poetic detail. A poet’s primary concern–to hammer out a portrait of and for African Americans–remained unaltered.
Fiction Maud Martha: a female subject’s ruminations before, during, and after World War II. One of the few works by a black woman writer written between the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era. Not marked by the ideological debates or ugliness of racism, classism, and sexism. Narrates the most difficult, or unspeakable, of human failings–those that occur on the level of intimacy. Generous, sensitive, and tough.

“the mother” relates the inner thoughts of a woman who has experienced abortion.

“The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock”: Federal intervention was necessary to implement school desegregation in Little Rock. The poem opens with a picture of domestic life in the suburbs. People going to church and performing their after-church rituals. Little Rock at Christmas, in summer, outdoor concerts, romance. The expected norms. Phone calls, polite manners. I got to Little Rock to find the news of school desegregation…but it’s so normal here. Then: the spitting, the throwing of rocks, garbage, and fruit. Girls and boys alike were engaged in this behavior. One of the little brown boys was bleeding. So did Christ.

“We Real Cool”: Running with the bad crowd at the pool hall. Drop out, stay out late, sing, drink, dance and die.

Realism, Naturalism, Modernism

1940-1960

[Study Notes]

Literary historians arbitrarily carve out the decades between 1940 to 1960 as “realism, naturalism and modernism” as an extraordinarily fertile moment in the development of African American writing. This era produced a rich and complex collection of writings and many diverse pieces for literary and cultural magazines although standard literary histories tend to obscure those writers.
The era produced serious novels, detective stories, pulp (or escapist) fiction, popular novels. There was also a confrontation of modern existence: atomic explosions, fascism, social revolution, the crumbling of colonialism, the death throwes of Jim Crow.
Authors and critics often engaged in bitter disagreements over the form and functions of African American expression, over the obligations of black writers to their reading publics, and even over how such publics were to be identified. The situation was no better overseas.
Realism refers broadly to a faithful representation of material “reality. Naturalism is a franker, harsher treatment of the power of the social environment cum jungle on individual psychology. Modernism is a break with the familiar functions of language and conventions of form.

War, Migration, Desegregation, and Social Revolution
We use World War II as the outer boundary of this period, during the second wave of the Great Migration. Many African Americans headed for economic opportunity in the major war industries or went abroad to fight. Truman created the Commission on Civil Rights in 1947. In 1954 there was Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education which desegregated public schools. In 1955 Alabama saw the Bus Boycott which began the “nonviolent protest movement.”
African American literary production from the 1940s to the 1960s is emphatically northern, urban, and set mainly in the black American culture capitals: Chicago, Boston, and Harlem. White youth copied the zoot suit vogue, along with many elements of bop, or hip talk. This language of hip, or the “new poetry of the proletariat” introduced a distinctly black urban idiom into the American language. Urban sensibility pervades the literature with the signs, sights, and sounds of the city. Setting the tone was Richard Wright’s 1940 publishing sensation Native Son.

Urban Realism
At least in strictly literary terms, Wright’s novel christened the 1940s decade. A book of the Month Club selection, Native Son made Wright the first African American writer to receive both critical acclaim and commercial success simultaneously. After him, other black writers began to be noticed.
Wright is credited with having set the stage for these successes and creating publishing opportunities for many black writers.
Native Son greatly transformed American culture and African American letters of the post-World War II era. Wright, along with Alain Locke and others, set a tone that black writers should no longer care for or serve their white audience. Their work should be focused on true self-expression for their own people about their own issues.
Wright used ingredients from Marxism, social protest, urban and secular ideas. Native Son shaped a radically new agenda and established for African American writing a new center of gravity, one that documented the gritty realities of urban living for black Americans filtered through the lenses of urban sociology and the conventions of naturalism.
Wright began investigating the Chicago School of Urban Sociology, especially its theories about juvenile delinquency and the urban environment. What forces and powers were at play in the social environment? He used his character of Bigger Thomas to show how the environment affects the mind, body, and spirit and this technique was seen as a form of social protest.
Social protest writing did not begin with Wright; it was there in the fugitive slave narrative, the abolitionist orator, poets, essays, pamphlets, letters, and in the novels of racial uplift. With the emergence of Richard Wright, black art and social protest were one and the same. Protest not only blended optimally with the aesthetics of naturalism and the reportorial practices of journalism and urban sociology but worked organically with a range of cultural activity–including grassroots organizing–underpinning a self-styled radical literary and intellectual movement.
Other writers have been associated with the Wright style. William Attaway’s Blood on the Forge, Chester Himes’s The Lonely Crusade and If He Hollers Let Him Go, Ann Petry’s The Street.

Ellison and Black Modernist Fiction
There was a burgeoning vision of integration as a social ideal that called for minimizing emphatically racial subject matter with an “integrationist” temper. There was a call for “non-Negro” or nonracial subject matter, especially in the novel. Black characters and black urban setting seemed no longer central. For most critics, though, the turn from urban realism had less to do with integrationist ideals than with the exhaustion of the mode itself.
It took the success of Invisible Man to further liberate those African American writers already chafing under the narrative straitjacket of realism and naturalism and thus breaking free of the pressures to protest injustice. Invisible Man had an experimental attitude and a commitment to social responsibility. It was the novel as artistic form and not primarily concerned with injustice, but with art.
Modernism was being explored before Ellison. There was much debate over his work.
Centering the plots of African American literary history, from 1940 to 1960, on the Wright-Baldwin-Ellison controversy and the paradigm of protest writing has resulted in a brotherhood narrative, which marginalizes women. Women writers were largely ignored.

Poetry
The poetry published between 1940 and 1960 challenges the debates about social protest. There were stanzaic forms and word collages, folk ballads, etc.
A confluence of poetic forms. Gwendolyn Brooks’s “folksy narrative” and conventions of Italian and English sonnet forms. Realism and naturalism. Global realities of war and the spreading shadow of fascism.
Extensive experimentation. The lyric, ballad, and sonnet.
Brooks’s studied attention to form and technical craftsmanship links her with melvin Tolson and Robert Hayden. The three are frequently grouped together as highly technical poets in the tradition of modern experimentalists.
Paragraphs on Melvin B. Tolson, WWII poetry and movement into the Black Arts Movement.

Drama
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun began the longest run on Broadway of any drama written by a black American up to that time, but throughout the 1930s and 1940s, blacks had demonstrated a talent for drama as theatergoers and ensuring sizable financial returns. The establishment of the American Negro Theater (ANT) in 1940 was a milestone in African American theater history.
A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics Award and anticipated many of the defining concerns of a soon-to-be black arts movement, which exploded in the 1960s. It took on a pan-Africanist, anticolonialist agenda.
In 1957 writers and intellectuals sought to establish the intricate connections between anti-colonialism and the movements for black civil rights for social and economic justice.

Prophets of a New Day
Malcolm X, the “fire prophet,” and one of the writers who would force social revolution “by any means necessary.” Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), whose signature poem, “Black Art, from his volume Black Magic Poetry, set much of the pace, form, and violent tone of the “new” black literature of the 1960s. Baraka’s had a desire for “killing poems” and “words as weapons” for art in the service of a struggle for human liberation.
The 1940s to 1960s brought forth the first full crop of African American writers. The writers of this period were bolder, more militant. Black readers in particular were summoned to confront new literary realities.

Langston Hughes

1902-1967

[Study notes]

Hughes helped define the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and wrote its finest first person account.
He was born in Joplin, Missouri, but moved around. Hughes came from a distinguished family, but his parents separated not long after his birth and he grew up lonely and near poverty in Lawrence, Kansas.
In Sept. 1921, aided by his father, he arrived in New York ostensibly to attend Columbia, but he really just wanted to see Harlem. The previous June, he had published one of his greatest poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in the Crisis, where his talent was immediately spotted by its brilliant literary editor, Jessie Fauset. Hughes lasted only one year at Columbia. He traveled, worked, and wrote poetry. By 1924, his poetry showed the powerful influence of the blues and jazz. In fact, his poem “The Weary Blues” helped launch his career when it won first prize in the poetry section of the 1925 literary contest organized by Opportunity magazine. Aided enthusiastically by Carl Van Vechten, who remained a friend all of Hughes’s life, he won a book contract from Knopf and published The Weary Blues, his first collection of verse, in 1926.
The style of Hughes endeared his work to a wide range of African Americans. His near-worship of black music as the major form of art within the race, was his adaptation of traditional poetic forms first to jazz, then to the blues, sometimes used dialect and radically different from that of earlier writers. His landmark poem “The Weary Blues” was the first by any poet to make use of the basic blues form.
Even more radical experimentation with the blues form led to his next collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927). He was fearless in his evocation of elements of lower-class black culture, including its sometimes raw eroticism, never efore treated in serious poetry. Many critics did not appreciate Hughes’s eroticism.
He stuck to his guns in defense of the freedom of the black writer. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” quickly became a manifesto for many of the younger writers who also wished to assert their right to explore and explicit allegedly degraded aspects of black life.
He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929. Charlotte Osgood Mason became his controlling, eccentric patron who later abandoned him.
Hughes’s politics took a sharp left and he published verse and essays in New Masses, a journal controlled by the Communist Party. He even visited the Soviet Union.
There was never a year when Hughes did not produce art in keeping with his sense of himself as a thoroughly professional writer. In 1934, he published his first collection of short stores, The Ways of White Folks. He was involved in theater and wrote a drama of miscegenation and the South called Mulatto (1935), which became the longest running play by an African American on Broadway until Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in the ‘60’s.
In 1940 he produced his autobiographical portrait of the renaissance, The Big Sea. 1942: poetry collection Shakespeare in Harlem. For another project he created one of his most beloved characters, Jesse B. Semple, or Simple, a Harlem everyman. In 1947, as lyricist for the Broadway musical Street Scene, Hughes earned enough money to purchase a house in his beloved Harlem, where he lived for the rest of his life.
1951: book of verse, Montage of a Dream Deferred. He kept up his schedule of prodigious output with versatility and skill. He loved being called the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race.”

Mother to Son [my interpretation]
Son, my life has not been easy. My life has been like a set of stairs with nails and splinters and torn up wood, but I keep climbing. Sometimes there was no light in this long tunnel. Now you can’t give up when the road gets hard. Don’t fall. Keep climbing like me.

The Weary Blues [my interpretation]
Black folks were playing a slow tune the other night in the low light. I heard the Weary Blues. That black man could make the piano moan. The blues were pouring out from this black man’s soul. He sang of being alone, yet still deciding to be happy. The second verse turns and says he can’t be satisfied, so much so that he wished he’d die. He sang far into the night. Once the stars and moon faded, he could sleep like a man who had poured out his troubles.

Harlem [my interpretation using his key words]
When you have to wait on a dream to come true, what happens to it in the interim? Does it dry up? Fester? Stink? Crust? Sag? “Or does it explode?”

Example of a reading response paper:

Tiffany Akin
Dr. V. Mitchell
English 7468
31 Aug. 2011

I have a couple of bones to pick with Langston Hughes. While reading his piece entitled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” I either tend to disagree with some of his statements or find ways to argue with others. Hughes bases his piece on something he heard Countee Cullen say about his own work: “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet.” There is a possibility that Hughes understands the statement to have a different meaning and only twists it to explore his thoughts along another line. The essay is based on Hughes interpreting Cullen’s meaning as “I don’t want to be a black poet, I’d rather be considered on scale with the white poets.” Granted, I was not in the room, but I believe Cullen’s statement could very well be misinterpreted or could otherwise have a different focus than Hughes examines. I take Cullen’s statement to mean: “I wish people would just view and appreciate my art without having to know my color.” How frustrating would it be to be an artist and have people ask, “So, is he/she white or black?” You want the audience to focus on your production, not your race. Basically, you are displacing the importance of the self and placing art on center stage; to consistently discuss the art in terms of the artist’s race takes away from the creation itself. To believe that Cullen wished for an audience to judge his work only on its merit is very different from Hughes’s view that Cullen was striving to perform as a white artist.
Hughes says that “[w]ithout going outside his race… there is sufficient matter to furnish a black artist with a lifetime of creative work” (41). Yes, agreed, but have you ever tried to tell an artist how to create? Have you ever tried to describe to an artist the boundary lines of his expression? “Yes, I want you to be an artistic self explosion… but do it like this.” It does not work. I ask why paint these boundaries? What if his visions for expression are universal? Of nature? Mechanical? Numerical? What if he does want to express in ways that are stereotypically “white”? Why not? It is the work of the individual artist to make himself a volcano of unique construction and to be true only to his inner vision; I do not believe this type of invention is bound by color. Should all black artists paint black people? Should all black singers sing “black” music? Should all black photographers capture only black life images? No; too limiting! No matter how much observers like Hughes would like to rally the troops in support of black artists doing black art, this vision is much too narrow and would kill much artistic expression if these rules were enforced.
Hughes is making quite a few other points but the one other I would like to debate is the idea of upward mobility. It is a fact that by way of the American media and Eurocentric Zeitgeist that we are all programmed, brainwashed, to think a certain way and believe certain things. As Hughes explains that “…the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtue” (40). I make the connection to American white girls growing up on T.V. and fashion magazines believing that to be tall, skinny and blonde are the ultimate goals. Woe to the girl who is short, chunky and brunette, for she is ridiculed and looked down upon by her more popular and good-looking peers. Hughes says that the American love for all that is white compels some African Americans to become “Nordicized Negro intelligentsia” (42), which is a pretty cool term, but within the realm of economics, is upward mobility a drive exclusively white? When Hughes states that the more cultured African American family spends more time “aping… things white” (41) he follows the observation with the line, “The father is perhaps a doctor, lawyer, landowner, or politician” (41). I disagree with Hughes implying that upward mobility comes with some disdain. The phrases he uses gives one the impression that African Americans should not seek to better themselves, drive toward more education and jump upward into a wealthier income bracket. I do not care what color you are or in what country you are raised, everyone wants their life to improve and become more comfortable over time. Just because another race is doing it does not mean you do not have a right to do it too. If I have a problem, even a lifelong problem with say, Philippinos, and I notice that they are excellent in calculus, I am not going to shun or stunt my drive to learn calculus because I do not admire the Philippino; it makes no sense. You hear the same argument taking place in the realm of underground rock bands. Many of their fans want the band to stay unknown so that they can keep the music all to themselves. If the band gains some sort of notoriety the fans will say they “sold out.” Guess what? The guys in the band want to eat decent food, live in a house and have enough money to raise a family, just like everyone else. I do not view it as selling out; I view it as striving for a decent living with decent living conditions which is an innate human desire not bound by color.

Zora Neale Hurston

1891-1960

One of the greatest writers of the century. Mules and Men (1935) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) are beyond question two of the finest achievements in African American literature. She liked to keep the specifics of her life a mystery and she was rather eccentric. Born in Eatonville, Florida, the first black township to be incorporated in the U.S. Being so, there was no racism and people felt free to express themselves. Her father was mayor and helped make the laws.

Her father was constantly cheating on her mother and Hurston’s mother died when Zora was thirteen. Hurston never got along with her stepmother so she took to the road where she helped an actress in a traveling theatrical troupe. Earned high school degree then took sporadic classes at Howard. She came to know some movers and shakers in the literary world who encouraged her to submit work. Migrated to New York.

Hurston then became one of the brightest young talents in Harlem. Her writings caught the attention of people who helped her publish and attend Barnard College.

While a student at Barnard, one of her papers was passed on to Franz Boas, a leading anthropologist, who encouraged her to take graduate courses at Columbia. She was granted money to follow her interests down south. 

She produced Mules and Men, generally regarded as the first collection of African American folklore to be compiled and published by an African American. The work opened to mixed reviews. She joined the Works Progress Administration in 1935 and then wrote Tell My Horse (1938). In the second book, she focused less on folktales and more on comparisons between American and Caribbean blacks, much to the dismay of audiences. 

During her research in the Caribbean, she completed her second novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her first novel was Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934) and was well received. The book was loosely based upon the antics of her father. Their Eyes Were Watching God celebrates one individual’s triumph over the limitations imposed on her mainly by sexism and poverty. The story explores how romance can blind women to the necessity of seeking emotional and intellectual independence as individuals in a complex world.

During the 1930s Hurston worked intermittently on musical productions. In 1939 she began working as a drama instructor at the North Caroline College for Negroes at Durham. It was during this time she produced her third book, Moses, Man of the Mountain. People couldn’t tell if she were re-telling a biblical tale, or making fun of it.

Her novel Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) was an experiment in which Hurston took on the role of a white woman. She didn’t like the rule that black people couldn’t write about white people.

In 1942 Hurston kept up controversy with her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. She had to take out some material regarding the hypocrisy and racism of whites before it was published. The book won the Anisfield-Wold award for its contribution to the amelioration of race relations. The critics felt Hurston wore rose-colored glasses when discussing the black woman’s role in America. She was being asked to write for many periodicals, but her views were often contradictory.

Even though there was lack of evidence, Hurston was arrested in 1948 for lewd acts with a minor. She was humiliated. For the last twelve years of her life, she never rebounded from this incident. She died poor and her grave went unmarked until the 1970s. Even though critics didn’t know what to make of her at the time, Hurston is still gaining an audience today.

Sweat  [short story. Combination Standard English and vernacular]

Delia Jones is a washerwoman. Most of the time she doesn’t know where her husband, Sykes, may be…usually with another woman. Sykes plays a prank on his wife by throwing his riding-whip over her shoulder knowing she will think it is a snake. He laughs when she is scared. He disparages the washing Delia brings home. He focuses on the wash being the clothes of white people rather than the money the washing brings in which they desperately need. He is unwilling to work hard enough for the both of them. Delia reminds him that it is her sweat that keeps them going. Sykes goes off with his other woman.

“She had brought love to the union and he had brought a longing after the flesh. Two months after the wedding, he had given her the first brutal beating.”

“Too late for everything except her little home. She had built it for her old days, and planted one by one the trees and flowers there. It was lovely to her, lovely.” Delia believed that someday, Sykes would get his comeuppance.

The town gossips know everything. They say Delia used to be a looker, but she’s been beat down for so long that it shows. Clarke spoke for the first time. “Taint no law on earth dat kin make a man be decent if it aint in ‘im. There’s plenty men dat takes a wife lak dey do a joint uh sugar-cane. It’s round, juicy an’ sweet when dey gits it. But dey squeeze an’ grind, squeeze an’ grind an’ wring tell dey wring every drop uh pleasure dat’s in ‘em out. When dey’s satisfied dat dey is wrung dry, dey treats ‘em jes lak dey do a cane-chew. Dey throws ‘em away. Dey knows whut dey is doin’ while dey is at it, an’ hates theirselves fuh it but they keeps on hangin’ after huh tell she’s empty. Den dey hates huh fuh bein’ a cane-chew an’ in de way.” 

Sykes goes around with his mistress. He makes sure Delia sees him buying his lover whatever she wants at the store. Sykes is even paying Bertha’s rent. Bertha will go to Delia’s house to ask if Sykes is around.

To amp up the abuse, Sykes captures a rattlesnake and keeps it in a box by the kitchen door. Delia and Sykes have gotten to the point where they can’t stand each other. 

One night Delia finds the snake in her laundry. 

[reader’s note: The entire story is setting up for a tragedy. I kept being worried that Sykes and Bertha were going to gang up on Delia, steal her house and bury her in the back yard or something. You gotta read the end! I was cheering and clapping. Just desserts for an evil man!]

The Gilded Six-Bits

[Question: Is there a chinaberry tree in every Hurston story?]

The story opens with a very house-proud description of a black couple’s yard and house. Everything, including Missie May, the woman, is scrubbed to a fine finish. It is a joyful Saturday ritual in which her husband, Joe, throws silver dollars in the open doorway before he hides and she chases him. Joe fills his pockets with fun things for his wife to find: candy, gum, soap, handkerchiefs. They have dinner and Joe says he wants to take Missie May to the new ice cream shop. They discuss Otis D. Slemmons who is a “fancy” man who opened the shop. Joe feels he doesn’t compare to a businessman like that. Slemmons has been telling people how much money and women he has. Joe wants to show off his woman to Slemmons. The ice cream shop owner compliments Joe’s wife.

Joe works the night shift and comes home every morning. They’ve only been married a year, but Joe is ready for children. He arrives home to find Missie May in bed with Slemmons! In the fight to get Slemmons out the door, Joe ends up with Slemmons’s gold watch. Joe, overwhelmed with feelings, put the money in his pocket without thinking and goes to bed.

Joe doesn’t throw her out but loses his fire. They don’t play, joke or touch. He keeps the gold piece he took off Slemmons in his pocket. It works like a void between the couple.

After months, they finally make love and Joe goes to work. Missie May finds the gold piece beneath her pillow. As Missie studied the gold, she found it was not true; it was a gilded half dollar. That is why Slemmons never allowed anyone to touch his “gold.” Did Joe leave the fake money there for her to find just like Slemmons had?

Missie May is pregnant. Joe is losing his health, but they are still making a go of it. They have a baby boy. Joe’s mother tells him the baby looks just like him.

Now the couple knows that Slemmons was a fake all along. They work hard, but take the misstep in their stride. Joe takes the fake money one day to the candy store where he hasn’t been in a long time. He shows the candy man the fake money and tells him of the loser he beat up to end up with it. He spends the (proper amount) of money all on candy kisses for his wife and baby. When he gets home he begins tossing silver dollars into the front room. 

Summary notes and possible class assignments on

“What White Publishers Won’t Print” by Z. N. Hurston

  • Whites lack of interest in internal lives/emotions of non-white peoples blocks understanding and increases fear
  • Lack of lit about the higher emotions of love life and upper class Negroes and the minorities in general
  • Publishers and producers only put forward those products that will make them money. Shy away from romantic life of Negroes and Jews
  • Public lack of interest–why?
  • Answer lies in THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF UNNATURAL HISTORY: built on folk belief
  1. All non-whites are simple stereotypes
  2. There are no internal workings
  3. Dedicated to the convenient “typical”
  • The public willingly accepts the untypical in Nordics, but feels cheated if the untypical is portrayed in others
  • Urgent to realize minorities do think–and about more than race. Internally like everyone else
  • Difference = bad. As long as the majority believes non-whites do not feel as they do they will continue the pattern of faulty thinking
  • We must believe we have something in common.
  • Evidence of high/complicated emotion ruled out which leads to lack of interest in romance without racial strife
  • “Reversion to type”: no matter how high we may seem to climb, put us under pressure and we revert to type–to the bush, the jungle
  • Necessary to know how the average behaves and lives
  • Literature and art should mirror nature

Possible teaching ideas for this work:

  • Thinking back on books you have been assigned so far, which cultural voices have you not heard?
  • Think about authors from other cultures. Choose a culture you know little about. Research authors that are well-known within that culture. Write a bio on this author which includes a picture and a list of their works.
  • Think about your own society: family, school, work. Who are the people you see frequently but do not know? Write an essay on what you may think of this person with the knowledge that you do not know them personally. We’ll follow by a question/answer session within class on what we think vs. what we know with classmates.
  • What is an issue that you have explored within yourself that you have never/rarely seen discussed through media?

Claude McKay

1889-1948

Study Notes

“If We Must Die” appeared in the July 1919 issue of the Liberator magazine. The poem, published after a series of race riots in cities across the country, was embraced widely as a call to resist injustice. McKay became one of the major voices of the Harlem Renaissance, producing work that evinced both race and class consciousness. The poems below are pieces from Selected Poems of Claude McKay (1953).
Often regarded as the first major poet of the Harlem Renaissance, he probably did more than anyone else to shape the trends that would later define that literary movement. Frequently explosive condemnations of bigotry and oppression were written invariably and ironically in traditional poetic forms as the sonnet, McKay’s favorite. His work appealed to traditional poetry readers as well as the new wave. McKay understood the power of race-conscious verse. His forms were traditional but his ideas were new.
McKay was born into the peasant class in Jamaica. McKay’s father instilled in his children a suspicion of white people because his own father had been enslaved. McKay’s childhood also embedded profound respect for community and a skeptical attitude toward religion.
McKay’s mentor, Walter Jekyll, helped him publish two books of dialect poetry: Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads. McKay was the first black to receive the medal of the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences, which came with a substantial cash award.
His most enduring literary ties were with white publications.
In 1919 McKay found much success in England with I.A. Richards, one of the foremost English literary critics of the century writing that McKay’s work was among “the best work that the present generation is producing.”
McKay returned to the U.S. and in 1922 published his most important collection of poetry, Harlem Shadows, virtually inaugurating the Harlem Renaissance. According to McKay, the book grew out of his urge to place the militant “If We Must Die,” his most famous poem, “inside of a book.” The racial violence that racked America in the summer of 1919 had inspired the sonnet, which later served as one of the unofficial rallying cries of the Allied Forces in WW II, particularly after it was recited by Winston Churchill in a speech against the Nazis. This poem proved to many that a black author had the authority to speak on black issues.
In the early 1920s, McKay gained popularity in Moscow where he traveled and spoke. He lived several years in France where he produced his first novel, Home to Harlem in 1928. The author continued to travel.
Home to Harlem was the first novel by a black writer to become a best-seller. People wanted to know about the nightlife and low life of Harlem. It is a tour of Harlem.
The next book, Banjo, continues the story of Ray and is one of the most extraordinary novels of the era, both for its cynical analysis of the impact of the grand forces of modernity (above all commerce and colonialism) on individual black lives, and for its almost documentary depiction of interactions among a wide range of characters of African descent from the U.S., the Caribbean, and Africa. Banjo may also have had the greatest international reach of any novel associated with the renaissance. Translated into French in 1931, it was the single book with the most significant impact on the generation of Caribbean and African students that would later come to be known as the Negritude generation.
McKay’s third novel, Banana Bottom (1933) is often regarded as his finest achievement in fiction.
In 1934 McKay returned to Harlem. He floundered, then joined the New York branch of the Federal Writers’ Project. By 1937 he had completed his autobiography, A Long Way from Home. The last book he was able to publish in his lifetime was a study of black life in New York, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940), which remains an important historical document, with well-wrought portraits of aspects of Harlem life in the 1930s (including the “numbers” racket and the religious leader Father Divine). McKay became a Catholic and taught at their Youth Organization.
McKay did not concern himself with what others thought his work should be. He worked for social change and believed that in order to tell the truth and make great art, some feelings are going to get hurt.

If We Must Die
This poem was written following the “Red Summer” of 1919 when antiblack riots broke out in several cities. McKay never said the poem referred to black and white people specifically. The rhyming scheme is A, B, A, B. In my own words:
If we must die, let it not be like penned-in hogs surrounded by barking, mocking dogs.
We need a noble way to die so our deaths mean something. If we die with dignity, even our killers will have to respect us. Even though we are outnumbered, we must take the fight to them. They may deal a thousand blows, but we will have one deathblow. Nothing lies before us but the grave, but we face it like men and we will fight all the way.

Enslaved
The author can’t think of his people without negative emotions. Much of the wording is negative and sad such as long-suffering, weary, despised, oppressed, enslaved, lynched, and disinherited. The author seeks revenge by an otherworldly force. In my own words:
When I think of all the suffering of my people I become sick with hate. I want an avenging angel to come down and utterly smite the white race. Let it be turned to smoke or disappear so that we may take off the yoke.

Outcast
Poem translated into my own words:
My spirit longs for where my ancestors came from. If I went there I would speak repressed thoughts, sing jungle songs. I long to return to peaceful darkness, but this world says I owe it something. I try to oblige. My life spark has darkened. I walk like a lonely ghost apart from others. I was not born in my native land. In this white land, I am out of step.

Harlem Renaissance


1919-1940

Study Notes

The 1920s was a decade of extraordinary creativity in the arts for black Americans called the Harlem Renaissance. Much of that creativity found its focus in the activities of African Americans living in New York City, particularly in the district of Harlem.
These years marked an especially brilliant moment in the history of blacks in America. Publications by African Americans became unprecedented in variety and scope. Poetry, fiction, drama, essays, music, dance, painting, and sculpture. There was a new sense of confidence and purpose; a sense of achievement.
Expressed in various ways, the creativity of black Americans undoubtedly came from a common source–the irresistible impulse of blacks to create boldly expressive art of high quality as a primary response to their social conditions, as an affirmation of their dignity and humanity in the face of poverty and racism. The influence of the Harlem Renaissance began to spread outward.
Serving in the armed forces contributed to a sense of worldliness. Exposure to new technologies and ideas. While Woodrow Wilson spoke of making the world safe for democracy, black people began asking why America was not safe for them. World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917 proved that major change was possible, even in the face of a powerful autocracy and entrenched injustice.
Black writers and intellectuals were now being exposed to international ideas such as socialism and race consciousness. There were debates as to whether one should use direct political action or use the arts for social advancement. Should they work on African problems and develop Africa’s resources?
From its inception, the cultural flowering of the Renaissance was characterized by attempts to “reach out.” There was a Negritude movement among the generation of French Caribbean and African students who arrived in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Renaissance was an international phenomenon due to the prominence of Caribbean writers.
Blacks began to be published by the white establishment.

Migration North
Segregation and poverty continued after emancipation. Migration to the North increasingly seemed an absolute necessity for blacks seeking a better life for themselves and their children.
New York City had better housing and WWI needed workers.
Harlem and New York quickly became the headquarters of many of the most important African American cultural and political national organizations, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, and Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. Newspapers and magazines played a pivotal role in setting the Renaissance in motion. The 1920s saw the pinnacle of periodical circulation. The Northern papers actively promoted the gospel of migration. Major black political organizations used paper media to spread their ideas. A smaller number of publications were associated with the black radical movements in the city. Though each publication had its own focus, each was dedicated to political progress and social uplift for black Americans and to the development of literary and artistic traditions of which the typical readers might be proud. These periodicals had a profound effect on black writings during this period, not only in subject matter but in form. It is a major reason for the preponderance of one-act plays and short stories.

The New Writers
The first glimmerings of the new day in literature probably came not with the work of a black writer but with that of a white–Three Plays for a Negro Theater, by Ridgely Torrence. James Weldon Johnson called the premiere of these plays in 1917, “the most important single event in the entire history of the Negro in the American Theatre.” Overturning the tradition of depicting blacks in stereotypical minstrel forms, Torrence’s plays featured black actors representing complex human emotions and yearnings; in this sense, they anticipated not only plays of the 1920s about blacks such as The Emperor Jones (1920) and All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1925) by the celebrated dramatist Eugene O’Neill but also the work of African American playwrights, poets, and fiction writers breaking with traditions that diminished and often insulted black humanity. Another landmark came in 1919, a year marked by several national antiblack riots, with the publication of the Jamaican-born poet Claude McKay’s militant sonnet “If We Must Die.” Although the poem never alludes to race, to black readers it sounded a note of defiance against racism and racist violence unheard in black literature in many years. Then, in 1921, the musical revue Shuffle Along, written and performed by blacks, brought to the stage novel styles of song, dance, and comedy that captivated blacks and whites alike and underscored the emergence of a new generation of black artistry.
Blues and jazz blew up within the music industry. In the literature of the Renaissance, black music and dance became flash points in larger debates about “primitivism” and propaganda.
In 1922 came James Weldon Johnson’s anthology of verse, the Book of American Negro Poetry. Johnson preferred authors who spoke well while also using their own voice. Above all, Johnson set the manipulation of language and other patterns of signification, not the overt assertion of political ideals, as the heart of the African American poetic enterprise. In the preface, Johnson pointed out things created uniquely by African Americans: spirituals, folk tales, the cake walk, and ragtime.
Like most white poets of the age, most black poets were enthralled by traditional forms of verse as established by the major British and American Romantic poets and their admirers. Modernist verse that resembles the work of Pound, for example, would not appear until much later, and then on a highly restricted scale. Unrivaled optimism emphasizing the power of endurance and survival, of love and laughter, as the only efficacious response to the painful circumstances surrounding their lives.
The New Negro (1925) edited by Alain Locke. Merging racial awareness with a desire for literary and artistic excellence, the text exuded a sense of confidence in the black world emerging from generations of repression in the U.S. Fused ethnic pride or nationalism with a desire for a fresh achievement and independence in art, culture, and politics.

Patrons and Friends
There have been questions regarding the impact of white patronage on black arts during the Harlem Renaissance. The movement did need funding. Many saw nothing but benefits in an association between blacks and whites. The two best known white patrons of the Renaissance were Carl Van Vechten and Charlotte Osgood Mason. Vechten would have interracial parties. Other entities could be patrons such as grant-awarding philanthropies, publishers, and editors.

Emerging Conflicts
Many within the Harlem Renaissance knew they were out of touch with the rest of the blacks in America. There was also a generational gap characterized by the same issues as all generation gaps.
Most working within the movement saw the Renaissance as freedom and each expressed ideas of freedom in their own way. Some were political (with older artists falling more in this category) while others were anti-political. Sexuality was another way to express freedom although sexual exploits weren’t written about or displayed any more than the general modes of the day.

Drama, Poetry, Fiction
In the theater, a combination of song, dance and humor was popular. Willis Richardson’s best-known play is The Chip Woman’s Fortune (1923), the first serious play by an African American to be staged on Broadway.
In 1926 Du Bois established the Krigwa Little Theatre movement with four basic principles. The plays of a real Negro theatre must be 1) about us; 2) by us; 3) the theatre itself should be for us and 4) near us. Drama was almost certainly one of the weakest areas of achievement in the Harlem Renaissance although there were many great actors and entertainers.
Around 1928 there was a shift away from poetry to fiction.

The Great Depression and the Decline of the Harlem Renaissance
By 1937 the Renaissance was over. It had depended on a special prosperity in the publishing industry, the theater, and the art world. The crash of Wall Street. The Great Depression. Unemployment and the rise of crime damaged the image and the reality of Harlem as an artistic and cultural paradise. Harlem Riot of 1935.
The art of the Harlem Renaissance represents a prodigious achievement for a people hardly more than a half-century removed from slavery and enmeshed in the chains of dehumanizing segregation. The Harlem Renaissance can be understood as a conversation (and at times, a debate) among African American artists and intellectuals about the very meaning of modernity from a black perspective.
In this period, black American artists laid the foundations for the representation of their people in the modern world, with a complexity and a self-knowledge that have proven durable. The Renaissance created a body of art on which future writers and musicians and artists might build and in which the masses of blacks could see their own faces and features accurately and lovingly reflected.