When I first set out to read the four white life novels two months ago, I hoped they would provide some insight into a very interesting historical period right on the verge of large scale social change. I also hoped they would provide insight into their author’s understanding of race – that they by concealing the subject of racial oppression, the author might actually reveal more. Unfortunately, the four books did not accomplish either goal. Two of the books, Savage Holiday and Country Place, simply were not that good. Seraph on the Suwanee was brilliantly written, though did not contain a strong social critique. The only book that met my expectations in terms of both quality and having something to say, was Giovanni’s Room.
I cannot see much value in analyzing the books collectively as a sub-genre. While initially I believed there would be some scholarly value in looking at books by black authors about (primarily) white characters, I have abandoned that perspective. The value of these books is not in their rather arbitrary commonalities in terms of the race of the author and her/his subjects. Rather, the books serve as interesting contrasts with each author’s other work, and can and should be read to deepen or problemize the authors’ other works. For both Wright and Petry, these novels deepen and elaborates upon the critiques they deliver in their more widely read works. Baldwin’s adds a critique of gender and sexual expectations to his more widely known critique of race relations. And Suwanee raises many questions about Hurton’s views on gender (or maybe she was just looking to get paid).
Previous Independent Study Posts:
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David Roediger
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Next Set of Books
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Savage Holiday by Richard Wright
Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston
Country Place by Ann Petry