Southern Land in Afro-American Literature
African-American literature is a significant part of American cultural heritage. Literary works which belong to writers of African origin are bright representatives of rich and vivid culture, based on oral tradition and full of mournful stories and sorrows of the enslaved nation. African American literature depicts life of Afro-American community in the United States of America from slavery times to nowadays. Literary works are mostly focused on the themes of slavery, fight for freedom, segregation, lynching and oppressions of all kinds. It gives truth to life picture of the burning pages of American history, but nevertheless, African-American literature presents a colorful mixture of national culture, oral tradition and burdensome life. Though, Afro-American literary tradition has started in 19th century, it depicts scenes from Afro-American history of different periods – slavery, Civil War, times of oppression and segregation and finally finding of liberty.
The South plays very important role in African-American life, as well as in their literature. It was not accidentally that exactly the ports of the Southern states received the African slaves. The Southern land has a correspondence to the spiritual nature of the nation. From the futility of the soil to the specificity of the landscapes – it’s all tells about Afro-Americans – strong, hard-working, mysterious and hot-blooded with unique culture that has absorbed tribal traditions of magic, music and folklore. The South serves as the spiritual and historical background of the development of African nation in the U.S. It’s the land of struggle, the land of sorrow, the land of hope and the land of freedom.
The Souhern states are the main scene in literary works of Afro-American writers, but approaches to the depicting of the meaning of this land are very different. Amiri Baraka has defined south as the “scene of crime”, crime against the humans who have suffered and were subjected to the savage reprisal. The same vision of the south is most common for slave narratives, which describe all horror of enslaved life from the first-person narrative. Such description can be found in works of Frederick Douglass, who discloses the real-life picture of the slaves in his “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845)”.
But of course the concept of South in Afro-American literature also comprises the other aspects of life, more deep and serious. For many people, South incarnates family or community ties, love for the native soil. Strong ties between the land and the people exposes Margaret Walker in her “Southern Song”: “my soul reclaimed again from southern land”. She celebrates the native landscapes: the sun, fields, and the grass. She addresses the land which gives her strength to live despite anything that is going on around, the land that supports her vital forces. Similar vision of the Southern land, able to ray life into the exhausted and tired soul is presented in the literary works by Maya Angelou, “In my memory, Stamps is a place of light, shadow, sounds and entrancing odors”. No matter how terrible and hard it may be, native land, native people, and family can help to cope with everything.
Afro-Americans have strong and inseparable connection with the South, the land of their ancestors and it is often opposed to the North of Ammerica, in context of return to the South, return to the origins. This is presented in novels of Gloria Naylor’s, who was born in New York, but finally came back to her native land. In her novel “Mama Day”, she describes the ancient and sacred mysteries and wisdom of her nation, incarnated in the image of Mama Day. The author reasons about the southern land:
So who it belong to? It belongs to us—clean and simple. And it belonged to our daddies and our daddies before them, and them too … And we wasn’t even Americans when we got it—was slaves”. She speaks about strong ties between the generations of people who shared similar fate and preserved unity and faith. (Naylor)
Despite all the spiritual and material importance which South has, it was also a scene of many terrible events. In the works by Jean Toomer and Claude McKay, all the beauty and significance of the landscape is opposed to the bloody and thrilling visions, “The ghastly body swaying in the sun” (McKay).
Every nation has its sacred land. For enslaved black people this sacred motherland has become the South of the USA. This place has become the land of suffering and the land of finding of peace and freedom. These main notions have found their place in the literature, written by the authors of Afro-American origin. It’s a complex and complicated literature, which may cause a variety of feelings, but without dispute won’t leave anyone indifferent. Irregardless of all the pain and hardship experienced in the course of more than a century, Southern land remained the spiritual motherland and the place of moral strength for the nation, who has won its liberty.
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