The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition

The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition

The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition

The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition

Excerpt

Got one mind fuh white folk to see, 'nother fuh what I know's me," my paternal grandfather used to say. Like Ellison's nameless protagonist in Invisible Man, it was not until many years later, while tracing the history of the Afro-American novel from its sociopsychological and folk roots to its contemporary branches, that I began fully to understand and appreciate his socially symbolic act. This book was initially conceived as a folkloristic and generic doctoral dissertation in the tradition of Daniel Hoffman's Fable and Form and Richard Chase 's American Novel and Its Tradition, but over the past fifteen years I have radically expanded, reorganized, and rewritten it in the light of recent developments in linguistics and critical theory and in an effort to provide a more useful interdisciplinary reference work for general readers as well as specialists in American and Afro-American studies. The historical debates by specialists about the relationship of black American culture and character to white American society and about the differences between the nature and function of the novel, with its allegiance to reality, and romance, with its allegiance to the ideal, provide the sociocultural and literary matrices of this book. "If," as Fredric R. Jameson states in his neo-Marxist rewriting of Kenneth Burke's theory of symbolic action," . . . narrative is one of the basic categorical forms through which we apprehend realities in time and under which synchronic and analytic thinking is itself subsumed and put in perspective, then we no longer have to be defensive about the role of culture and the importance of its study and analysis." But because the narrative or storytelling tradition is an ancient sub-Saharan African as well as a Greco-Roman means for symbolically expressing both a personal and a collective relationship to a social and metaphysical universe, I believe that approaches to the Afro-American novel that reduce the rich complexities, paradoxes, and ambivalences of different human experiences, especially creativity, to economics, politics, psychology, or linguistics are, at best, incomplete.

This book, then, is a comprehensive sociopsychological, sociocultural interpretive history of the Afro-American novel. It seeks to unearth, iden-

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