African Settings in Contemporary American Novels

By Dave Kuhne | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Black on Black: African-American Novels with African Settings

For many decades, African Americans were reluctant to embrace their African heritage because they had adopted the traditional Anglo-Saxon view that placed Africa and Africans in an inferior light; however, in recent years many African Americans have included Africa as a conscious, positive element of their culture ( Berghahn 31-32). Contemporary fiction by African Americans reflects this reassessment of Africa, and several well-known novels by African Americans make reference to Africa and to myths and legends about Africans. For instance, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon alludes to a slave who could fly and who one day "stood up in the fields . . . and was lifted up in the air. Went right back to wherever it was he came from" (323). And Paule Marshall Praisesong for the Widow uses as a motif the legend that Ibo slaves newly arrived in America turned and walked "right on out over the river. . . . And when they got to where the [slave] ship was they didn't so much as give it a look. Just walked on past it [toward Africa]" (39).

Yet despite this interest in Africa and Africans, relatively few novels by black Americans are actually set in Africa. When African-American authors do set their stories in Africa, they--like their white colleagues--often write about Africa in a didactic manner; however, the lessons, themes, and African settings presented in novels by African Americans differ greatly from those found in novels by white Americans.

For example, African novels by white authors are usually set either in East Africa or the Sahara; African novels by African-American authors are usually set in West Africa. Few of the important characters in African novels by white authors are African; most of the important characters in African novels by black authors are African. White novelists often portray Africa as a changeless, timeless place without a history; African-American novelists who set works in Africa usually write

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