Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson

By Herman Beavers | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Tilling the Soil to Find Ourselves: Conversion, Labor, and [Re]membering in Gaines's Of Love and Dust and In My Father's House

In those empty spaces, times intersect and our relation with things is reversed: rather than remembering the past, we feel the past remembers us. Unexpected rewards: the past becomes present, an impalpable yet real presence.

-- Octavio Paz, "The Tree of Life"

say it for nightmare, say it loud panebreaking heartmadness: nightmare begins responsibility.

-- Michael S. Harper, "Nightmare Begins Responsibility"


1

Community functions in numerous fictional narratives by African American authors as the repository of memory, a space where the individual's redemption hinges upon collective acts of remembering. In this respect, these communal acts of reconstructing the past are vehicles of identity for those who choose to harness them as such. One thinks here, for example, of Toni Morrison Song of Solomon, where Milkman engages in what begins as a materialistic quest for gold and ends as a genealogical journey that leaves him face to face with the knowledge that he is part of an ancestral legacy that includes self- generated flight. Morrison's novel operates within a corpus of novels in which we find a protagonist who, individually, fails to utilize the personal resources necessary to constitute a viable identity.1 It is the com-

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