Upon Further Review: Sports in American Literature

By Michael Cocchiarale; Scott D. Emmert | Go to book overview

Dualism and the Quest for Wholeness in
Arna Bontemps’s God Sends Sunday

Lisa Abney

Arna Bontemps’s popular novel God Sends Sunday (1931) is a bildungsroman profiling the life of an African American jockey named Augie. Bontemps uses horse racing and the sporting life as vehicles for Augie’s escape from his poverty-ridden existence on the banks of the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana. The character’s occupation becomes a point of entry into a world of wealth and power for him. Despite the success the character obtains as a jockey and professional gambler, he remains unfulfilled, moving from place to place in search of that which will complete him. Augie lives within a framework of dualities not unlike those addressed by W.E.B. DuBois in his groundbreaking 1903 work The Souls of Black Folk.

Bontemps, in both his poetry and fiction, frequently expresses the dual nature of African American life (Brown 139–140). Through this motif of duality, the theme of the quest for wholeness can be seen in not only this novel, but in many other literary works that depict African American life.1 DuBois asserts:

[T]he negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in
this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only
lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation,
this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of
others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on. (44)

Augie, ironically born with a caul,2 is gifted with clairvoyance and is, as DuBois’s quotation illustrates, unable to see himself for who he is. He measures his life by the image he cultivates, which is reflected by those who surround him, yet throughout the novel, he quests for wholeness—meaning and self worth.

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