African American literature has a strong deeply rooted background in the history of America, thus giving the writers categorized in this genre a strong message to convey in any story they chose to tell. From tragic life moments to happy life moments, the writers have the ability to tell their story in a variety of methods. This canon of literature serves as a diary for the African American community. All of the literary works that compile this genre reflect the many twists and turns a collective group of persons must endure while struggling to achieve a place in history.
The following discussion of three historically significant African American stories reflects the struggles one race of persons had to endure on their journey throughout various time periods in America. The Short Stories In the short story, My White Folks Treated us Good by Mariah Hines the author describes in first person account of a situation when African American slaves were treated well in comparison to the stories of abuse, rape, and neglect most persons are accustom to reading from this era.
The slaves never went hungry, always had clothes to wear, were able to work under their own accord, always treated with respect, and were told to take Sundays off while also being encouraged to attend church on Sundays. The slaves were in fact treated so well that when they were free to leave, they choose to remain at their former master’s farm and continued working for him. Hines concluded the Master continued to support his former slaves. Hines stated “Master helped us much as he could. Some of us he gave a cow or mule or anything he could spare to help us (p. 34). ”
Moving forward in time, the short story Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston describes a situation of domestic abuse in a long term relationship between a wife, Delia Jones, and her husband, Sykes Jones. Sykes enjoyed torturing Delia, he would find ways to make her job as a washwoman more difficult by kicking the clothes across the room or by scaring her with ways related to her fear of snakes. Sykes enjoyed fighting; he in fact enjoyed it so much so that he intentionally picked fights with Delia. This type of torture strained their marriage to the point of near silence on a daily basis.
Sykes thought it to be a good idea to bring a rattlesnake into their home. The rattlesnake got lose in the home, Delia was able to get outside the home but Sykes remained in the home and was attacked in their bedroom. Sykes yelled to Delia for help and comfort, but she was unable to come to him related to fear. Delia finally walked to the door, but due to the nature of his injuries and the distance to the doctor she understood he would not make it through this attack, therefore she allowed him to pass in their backyard.
“She could scarcely reach the chinaberry tree, where she waited in the growing heat while inside she knew the cold river was creeping up and up to extinguish that eye which much known by now that she knew (p. 108). ” This story shows how those who choose to abuse others always pay for those actions in the end. Alice Walker wrote the story Nineteen Fifty-Five, about a young white singer, Traynor, who purchased a song from a young African American woman, Gracie Mae, and went on to become famous after recording and releasing his own version. His version of Gracie Mae’s song continued to eat away at Gracie Mae for the rest of her life.
It did not have the same meaning, nor was it loved by his fans for the same reasons she hoped it would be. The fans loved Traynor, not the song. Traynor continued to keep in contact with Gracie Mae throughout his time in the army, touring, marriages, and divorces. Then towards after many years, contact stopped and Traynor was found dead after 15 wives and a troubled road in the end. Gracie Mae lived vicariously through Traynor and his portrayal of her song. Gracie Mae herself lived quite happily through the birth of many children, the divorce and/or death of three husbands, the showering of gifts from Traynor, and his ultimate death.
Gracie Mae did have a connection to Traynor that flowed deeper than her song. “One night I dreamed Traynor has split up with his fifteenth wife p. 297). ” Due to the stereotypes and prejudices of this time period Gracie Mae and Traynor were never able to express the emotional connection they felt between each other. Common Literary Conventions Literary conventions and themes were similar in the stories; connotations, culture, undertones, and main characters were alike. The three stories were written in first person and portrayed a personal struggle endured by each main character.
The main character was always female, strong, and independent in different way. The stories span three different periods of time, yet still reflecting similar struggles in very different settings. These conventions are important when connecting the messages of these stories. Each has a story of struggle, some are internal while others are outward, and each woman must find inner strength to change or cope with their situations. Beginning with My White Folks Treated us Good, this story was historically important in relation to conveying the happiness that could be found in such a dire situation as slavery.
Hines showed not all slavery conditions were adverse or abusive; there was still the possibility of enjoying life, and gaining independence by getting the break needed, such as the freeing of all slaves, to make one’s own life better. In Sweat, Hurstson was able write a story about a woman able to persevere in a dreadful situation of both mental and physical abuse. During this time in history, women were not able to be independent and outspoken due to a fear of judgment or increased abuse.
Delia was given the chance to be free from the abuses of Sykes and took that chance by allowing him to die from his injuries, thus resulting in her freedom. Following in the same suit, Nineteen Fifty-Five expressed the internal struggle of a woman’s desire to be understood and independent. Gracie Mae wanted to sing her own song and live her own life, without connection to a version of her song that did not represent the original intent. Gracie Mae was happy with her life, but was never free from what the release of her song brought to her life. Conclusion Culturally, these stories are important to all American’s.
The historical significance of these stories and the emphasis on equality places a connotation of acceptance and availability of equal opportunity to all persons regardless of color, social class, age, race, gender, or personal situation. African Americans are able to tell their personal stories of struggles and triumphs through literature. This literature is a valuable tool for all persons wanting to educate themselves about significant times in American history. References Young, A. (1996). African American Literature: A brief Introduction and Anthology. New York, New York: HarperCollins College Publishers.
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