Suffering And Redemption in Four African-American novels

[By Goyland Williams]

In a previous post, I discussed the presence of suffering as a dominant theme in African-American novels. Given the long and brutal history of black people, it is no surprise that literary renderings attempt to capture the historical and harsh treatment of a striving people. In this post, I will highlight a few novels that capture the diverse ways in which suffering is depicted.

Beloved (1987) -Toni Morrison: The horrors of slavery, rape, and death are ever-present in Morrison’s highly celebrated novel. Baby Suggs depression, Sethe’s murder of her child, and the various women who were “taken up” during the Middle Passage, demonstrates the forced trauma of slavery. Morrison seems to suggest and stress the importance of the black community in order to survive these traumatic experiences.

Go Tell It On The Mountain (1953) -James Baldwin: John’s stepfather Gabriel despises him. Gabriel uses God’s laws as a way to condemn and instill fear in John’s heart rather than spelling out the love and mercy of God. John’s suffering comes as a result of his step-fathers hateful remarks that he is ugly and his internalization of those negative sentiments.

Kindred (1979) -Octavia Butler: Filled with whipping, rape, lynchings, and the burden of race, Butler sheds light on the institution of slavery and the suffering that it caused for African-Americans on the Weylin plantation. As was common in slavery, violence is inflicted on the slaves as a mode of deterrence and death. The Weylin’s use their power and privilege as white male slave owners to torture and humiliate slaves who are condemned by law as subordinates.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland(1970)-Alice Walker: Walker demonstrates throughout the novel that the oppressed will sometimes turn into the oppressor as a mode of survival. Grange Copeland- a black sharecropper-was never able to build much for himself due to the oppressive forces working against him. Unable to find meaning and purpose in his own unfulfilled life, he turns to violence against others as a response and claim to power.