Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Black Women in the City vs. Black Women in the Country

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My overall impression of the class curriculum so far is the difference in the theme and tone of each novel as we have progressed through the class. The Street and The Bluest Eye focus so much on the loss of innocence and the deterioration of the human body and possess a dismal tone that leaves the reader feeling empty, whereas Kindred and The Color Purple look at empowerment and inner strength and have a more optimistic or constructive tone.

 My question is then, does the change in setting from an urban to rural environment fundamentally change the mindset of the authors and of their characters, or is it that more has occurred since Petry’s time to allow Butler and Walker the ability to write novels about black women with a more positive message? There may be more factors that I have not considered in taking up this question, but I just can’t help but to focus on the importance of the place and time the novels take us.

Petry’s novel takes us to Harlem in the 1940s where its denizens fall victim to layers upon layers of oppression and neighbors isolate themselves from each other, meanwhile the circa 1920s Harlem that Nettie encounters before going off to Africa portrays a charitable and seemingly well off community. With roughly a two decade separation between the two instances, what causes the change in tone and theme to occur? My only explanation for this is how urban and rural communities view wealth. While rural black women may be considered poorer in terms of utilities and luxuries, the ability to produce one’s own food gives them an advantage over their urban counterparts, such as Lutie Johnson, who barely scraped by to afford food for their own and struggle for their own financial independence.

I know this is also a very crude explanation for tackling such a complex issue, so I am looking forward for anyone to fill in the gaps or provide a new perspective on how place influences the message of the novel.


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