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

By Herman Beavers | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
If It's Going To Be Any Good, It's Your Story": Legibility, [Un]speakability, and Historical Performance in McPherson's "A Solo Song: For Doc

This was no everyday event: reports of madness with too much technique for the life force, the flow tuned in and broken apart.

-- Michael S. Harper, "Solo"


1

In the last chapter, we examined Ernest Gaines's explication of the pitfalls of unsanctioned memory. There we examined Jim Kelly's need to separate himself from the familiar in order to enter a space where the act of remembering and the telling it engenders is unencumbered, loosed from communal restraint. That restraint, we discovered, sprang from the entanglement of race ritual and memory: the violent racial dramas that Jim Crow enacts lead, as the character of Aunt Margaret demonstrates, to what she claims is a mnemonic lapse. Jim Kelly is successful in breaking this "tradition of forgetfulness" to tell his tale, however, and in so doing, restores his damaged faith.

Gaines's hero reestablishes the relationship between acts of remembrance and oral storytelling. As we will see with James Alan McPherson's much-anthologized short story, "A Solo Song: For Doc," history in written form can be as emblematic of erasure or forgetfulness ("invisibility in black and white") as when it is illegible and unrecollected. Like Jim Kelly, McPherson's Youngblood is faced with a plethora of re-

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