Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals

Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals

Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals

Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals


By lynching, burning, castrating, raping, and mutilating black people, contends Trudier Harris, white Americans were perfomring a rite of exorcism designed to eradicate the "black beast" from their midst, or, at the very least, to render him powerless and emasculated. Black writers have graphically portrayed such tragic incidents in their writings. In doing so, they seem to be acting out a communal role -- a perpetuation of an oral tradition bent on the survival of the race.

Exorcising Blackness demonstrates that the closeness and intensity of black people's historical experiences sometimes overshadows, frequently infuses and enhances, and definitely makes richer in texture the art of black writers. By reviewing the historical and literary interconnections of the rituals of exorcism, Harris opens up the hidden psyche -- the soul -- of black American writers.


If black people in this country are to really know who they are, then they must, as Ralph Ellison, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, and other black writers have asserted, understand black American history.This is especially true of black writers; they can begin to appreciate the sources and influences which shape their literary works only by knowing black history. Whether they openly admitted their debt to specific historical occurrences or simply assumed from their treatments of them that the sources were clear, black writers throughout their generations of creativity in America have shown a closeness to their history which sometimes overshadowed their art, frequently enhanced it, and always made it richer in texture.Clearly the history of slavery in this country, and the permanent psychological stamp it has made upon all of us, is one explanation for the persistence of black writers in keeping history alive in their works. When slavery in fact evolved into slavery in the form of sharecropping, that system, too, made its indelible impressions upon black people and upon black writers. And the brutality which white Americans used to keep both systems in place has provided "fictions" as engaging as those which could be concocted by the most imaginative minds.

The intensity of the historical experiences under which black people have lived in America, then, has understandably so penetrated their literature that there are times when the two cannot be easily separated.Recognition of this fact has led to special conference sessions on black American literature and history and to special issues of journals devoted to discussion of the influences upon and the uses of history within black American literature.One such special session, "The Uses and Meaning of History in Modern Black American Literature," was held at the 1977 Modern Language Association meeting.The papers from that special session became the special issue of Black American Literature Forum for Winter 1977.

Violence against black Americans is one recurring historical phenomenon to which every generation of black writers in this country has been drawn in its attempt to depict the shaping of black lives. Especially compelling has been violence that takes the form of lynching. Black writers in fictions ranging from the realistic to the . . .

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