Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature

By Janice Lee Liddell; Yakini Belinda Kemp | Go to book overview

9
Agents of Pain and Redemption
in Sapphire's Push

JANICE LEE LIDDELL

In 1982 Trudier Harris wrote, "Although artistic freedom guarantees that any writer can draw upon his or her own culture in the creation of literature, that general mainline theory has certain side roads that many black writers in America believe are to be left untraveled. Some subjects, as discovering one's blackness, first experiencing prejudice, growing up black in the U.S. may be common, but others such as lesbianism, incest, or hateful black mothers, are usually left undisturbed. Incest is especially taboo" (495). Harris proceeds to explicate several fictive pieces by African Americans that explore the theme of incest, though tacitly, according to Harris. In fact, Harris's main point is that even in these few works--with the exception of James Baldwin Just Above My Head ( 1979)--Black writers only subtly "tread the forbidden soil . . . by being indirect and by leaving more unstated than is made explicit" (504). In her examination of Ralph Ellison Invisible Man ( 1952); Alice Walker "The Child Who Favored Daughter" in In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women ( 1973); The Bluest Eye ( 1970) by Toni Morrison; and Baldwin's 1979 novel, all but Baldwin's work decentralize the issue of incest in favor of other themes that were more politically acceptable for the times in which the works were written. In most of the instances where incest is an issue--including Walker later novel The Color Purple ( 1982), and to a lesser degree even Maya Angelou spirited autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings ( 1969)--the larger context of race and/or gender victimization is made central at the expense of the victimization of the individual girl-child. In effect, the authors, according to Harris--and the works themselves--"confront the subject of incest without really confronting it" (496).

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