DOWN HOME by Robert Bone


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It is slightly jarring to approach the literature of the black American as a dichotomy between the pastoral and antipastoral; but once you accept Professor Bone's premise, the rest of his study is a valuable perspective on black short fiction from the antebellum era to the emergence of Richard Wright. Although he tends to overcategorize, in between those hard and fast lines is a great deal of research and reading. Bone divides his study into two parts: the seminal ""Age of [Booker T.] Washington"" and the Harlem Renaissance. Bone's point of view, as you will note from that homage to Washington, is assimilationist; his judgments are made from the perspective of a white society that sits rather like an umbrella over black writing. Thus, his truly intriguing rehabilitation of Joel Chandler Harris. He portrays Paul Dunbar as a writer of ""travesties""--inauthentic pastorals--and despite his praise of Charles Chesnutt, describes 19th century Afro-American work as ""a rather bleak affair."" With the rise of the Harlem Renaissance, he charts an ""impulse toward the picaresque"" in writers like Claude McKay, Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes. Bone provides a charming anecdote about the day Arna Bontemps passed on his good-luck pennies to ""urban realist"" Richard Wright, who was desperate for carfare. The penetration of this history is limited by the formal rigidity of its classical framework; it's a tidily computed academic formula, but in the last analysis, its real subject is itself.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1975
Publisher: Putnam