Reclaiming Community in Contemporary African-American Fiction

Reclaiming Community in Contemporary African-American Fiction

Reclaiming Community in Contemporary African-American Fiction

Reclaiming Community in Contemporary African-American Fiction

Synopsis

An examination of how the works of five African American writers reveal the power for communal bonds.

Excerpt

After cautioning her readers about the dangers of oversimplification, Margaret Atwood asserts that every country and culture has a "unifying and informing symbol" : for England, it is the island; for Canada, survival; for the United States, the frontier (31). At the heart of the American dream, the concept of the frontier embodies the freedom to leave behind a personally unfulfilling or unsatisfactory place in the expectation of a better one. Moving on to a better place also creates a new time, substituting a projected new future for a no-longer-desired past. For the dream of the frontier to function, movement must be free, readily available, and perceived as advantageous. As Lawrence Levine notes, "spatial mobility" has been important "throughout American history for all segments of the population" (262), for physical mobility in American culture is the key to upward social mobility, economic success, and political expression. The frontier is the creative edge of the ideal "democratic social space" by which, according to Philip Fisher, the United States invented its national identity (72).

Among the many realities that render this concept an unrealized American myth, slavery is "clearly the most radical contradiction possible" (Fisher 87). Beginning with the Middle Passage, movement for Africans and then African Americans was not free but forced, was not pursuit of a dream but exile from a desired space to an horrific new one, and constituted not progressive renewal in a new time but displacement from immersion in holistic African time to alienation in linear Euro-American time. Emigration was not an optimistic quest for a new home but the almost unendurable loss of home, community, family, and iden-

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