A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives on African American Men

A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives on African American Men

A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives on African American Men

A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives on African American Men

Synopsis

The impact of absent fathers on sons in the black community has been a subject for cultural critics and sociologists who often deal in anonymous data. Yet many of those sons have themselves addressed the issue in autobiographical works that form the core of African American literature. A Fatherless Child examines the impact of fatherlessness on racial and gender identity formation as seen in black men's autobiographies and in other constructions of black fatherhood in fiction. Through these works, Tara T. Green investigates what comes of abandonment by a father and loss of a role model by probing a son's understanding of his father's struggles to define himself and the role of community in forming the son's quest for self-definition in his father's absence. Closely examining four works--Langston Hughes's The Big Sea, Richard Wright's Black Boy, Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father --Green portrays the intersecting experiences of generations of black men during the twentieth century both before and after the Civil Rights movement. These four men recall feeling the pressure and responsibility of caring for their mothers, resisting public displays of care, and desiring a loving, noncontentious relationship with their fathers. Feeling vulnerable to forces they may have identified as detrimental to their status as black men, they use autobiography as a tool for healing, a way to confront that vulnerability and to claim a lost power associated with their lost fathers. Through her analysis, Green emphasizes the role of community as a father-substitute in producing successful black men, the impact of fatherlessness on self-perceptions and relationships with women, and black men's engagement with healing the pain of abandonment. She also looks at why these four men visited Africa to reclaim a cultural history and identity, showing how each developed a clearer understanding of himself as an American man of African descent. A Fatherless Child conveys important lessons relevant to current debates regarding the status of African American families in the twenty-first century. By showing us four black men of different eras, Green asks readers to consider how much any child can heal from fatherlessness to construct a positive self-image--and shows that, contrary to popular perceptions, fatherlessness need not lead to certain failure.

Excerpt

“I’ll never forget the day that my father drove off. I knew I was on my own. I don’t want my son to ever have that experience.” A black man— an abandoned son and loving father—shares this emotional memory with me twenty-five years after his relationship with his father disintegrated. His eyes reveal a lesson that may be reflected in the autobiographies of black men who have had similar experiences with their fathers: Memories of loss are rarely forgotten. Black men’s autobiographies reflect the significance of loss, especially when that loss is the first and most important male role model—the father.

The stories of black men, whether they are relayed in oral or written form, are the inspiration for this work. In particular, my interest is in examining an important issue within black communities that I might have overlooked, had it not been for the voice of one of my former students. While teaching an introduction to African American literature course at Southern University, a historically black university in Louisiana, I was in the process of reviewing background on James Baldwin when a young man asked a question that would haunt me for several years: “Why were so many of these black male writers abandoned by their fathers?” It was a pattern I had not noticed, although I had completed a dissertation on Richard Wright no more than two years before. When I asked him what he thought, he simply shrugged his shoulders and told me it was best for a father to stay in place, even if he didn’t want to. This young black man had jolted me out of my oblivion and shown me, in the process, that the question was not merely a literary one, but a social issue that black writers themselves had been trying to answer for decades. My interest in . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.