". . . there is a sense of the Prodigal about my life that begs to be resolved. But one truth anyone reading these pieces ought to get is the sense of movement--the struggle, in myself, to understand where and who I am, and to move with that understanding." 1
The foregoing affirmation is taken from Baraka's prefatory remarks to Home: Social Essays. In truth, the essays collected therein afford us a precise chart of the author's developing aesthetic and socio-political consciousness. The early essays from Home reflect the onset of the writer's argument with his old peers, the Village aesthetes (recall Chapters I and II). In such selections as "Cuba Libra" and "Letter to Jules Feiffer," he severely castigates the apolitical stance of the aesthetes as well as what he perceives as the ineffectual theorizing of the so-called "liberal," a favorite whipping boy of the writer's. The later essays of Home show a crystallization of these attitudes and a nascent black nationalism (see such selections as "Black is a Country," "Street Protest," and "Soul Food"). We witness the full flowering of the nationalist in "The Legacy of Malcolm X, and the Coming of the Black Nation." Corollary to these articles are those chronicling the writer's aesthetic reorientation. Along with the anti-aesthete theme of "Cuba Libra" and other early essays, Baraka calls for a more thorough investigation of Afro-American life on the part of the black writer (see "The Myth of a 'Negro Literature'"). This is given further treatment in "A Dark Bag" and "Black Writing" and carried to its most extreme statement in "The Revolutionary Theatre" and "State/meant," later works calling for a thoroughly politicized literature.
Baraka's self-depiction as prodigal voyager to self understanding through struggle is vividly dramatized in his extremely autobiographical fiction. In both The System of Dante's Hell and Tales, we