Remembering the Past in Contemporary African American Fiction

By Keith Byerman | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Chapter Eleven

The End(s) of History in Wideman,
Johnson, and Morrison

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois argued that “the problem of the twentieth century [was] the problem of the color-line” (Souls of Black Folk, 3). At the end of the century, and of the millennium, three novels dramatize the apocalyptic effects of the century's failure to find a solution. In Paradise, Cattle Killing, and Dreamer, Toni Morrison, John Wideman, and Charles Johnson, respectively, dramatize moments of history's explosion into violence, chaos, and death. In this sense, they are linked not only to contemporary obsessions with technological and political disorder and religious and media images of Armageddon but also with historical recurrences of such concerns at end moments of centuries.

But consistent with other works in this study, these novels do not engage directly in the immediate (in this case millennialist) discourse. Instead, they present crisis moments in (real or fictive) history and reconstruct those in ways that signify on the present. By exploring the sources of the crises and the meaning of transformative moments, the writers imply the truth of our moment. In this sense, the “end of time” becomes an opportunity to consider the ends of history. In each case, the end that concerns them is race. Does its persistence into our fin de siecle imply that it is an end rather than a means in history? How is it that a problem of 1790s Philadelphia, the civil rights era, and an all-black town in midcentury America can look so much like the problem of the multicultural, postmodern United States? And why should this be the concern of highly respected, well-placed, successful writers? Why should their texts, through portrayals ofmurder, disease, and riot, reflect despair much more than hope and disintegration much more than healing? In effect, their works


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Remembering the Past in Contemporary African American Fiction


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 228

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?