Breaking the Black Mold: The Literary Empowerment of African Americans
Prior to the 1920s and the Harlem Renaissance, the voice of the African American narrative was relegated to stories derived from folk traditions. Tall tales, fables, trickster stories and preacher tales dominated the body of African American literature. And through these stories, a self-perpetuating stereotype of the black identity coursed through America, not only in the white communities, but in the African American community as well. Until the 1920s, African Americans knew their roles as subalterns well, and did little to overcome their prescribed status. However, the Harlem Renaissance and the works spawned from this era intrinsically changed the way African Americans viewed themselves. They struggled to find exactly what it meant to be black in America; they longed for a definition that could agree between being both American and black. As Addison Gayle noted in The Black Aesthetic, “One ever feels is twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (xxii). This black aesthetic was a design for African Americans to find identity and cultural value in a world that was still inherently...
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