By Donald A. Petesch
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Extra resources for A Spy in the Enemy's Country: The Emergence of Modern Black Literature
One of the important qualities that has persisted in the literature is the tendency toward a collective perception. Black literature has not been characterized by the romantic ego common to white literature; rather, black literature has tended to articulate a collective consciousness that has strong roots in both the African village and the daily experience of blacks under slavery and during the postwar period. Historian Nathan Irvin Huggins has stressed the importance of the village in the experience of those West Africans who furnished most of the slaves for the New World market: The village was the expression of the need to hold together for existence.
14 On the literary front, the earlier "battle of the books," that contest of images regarding the nature of slavery, was transformed into a celebration of the southern past. The plantation, with its horrors out of the slave narrative literature, was sentimentalized. 16 This ignoring of difference is a tendency that has a long indulged history in the American experience. It reflects the American willingness to see what is believed. 17 But probably even more far-reaching in its implications (at least for non-Indians) than the nonpresence of the very-present Indians was the ignoring of class differences.
A Frederick Douglass could write, as a fugitive slave, that he had never known a slave who did not bear stripes upon his body, but where was the literary form, apart from the slave narrative, that could contain such an experience, that could domesticate such a troubling, and accusatory, content? The black writer, like Cleopatra's messenger, possessed bad news. The black experience, in slavery or "freedom," was not the stuff of the literature of the times. An Emerson might write in "Self-Reliance," ''Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string," but the black writer knew it was not his "iron string" that could have such a universalizing twang.
A Spy in the Enemy's Country: The Emergence of Modern Black Literature by Donald A. Petesch