Early Morning Reading: The Ethics of Swagger
I just finished reading a chapter about Ernest Gaines prizing winning novel, A LESSON BEFORE DYING, in Michael DeRell Hill’s book, THE ETHICS OF SWAGGER: Prizewinning African American Novels, 1977-1993. Set in rural Louisiana in the late 1940s, A LESSON BEFORE DYING is about a black teacher recruited by his aunt to educate a young black man wrongfully accused of murder on deathrow on how to be a man. It deals with the racial conflicts of the deep south and how despite the main character’s education, it doesn’t preclude him from bring treated as a second class citizen. I’m taping an interview with Hill Saturday. Here is a footnote from page 88 in THE ETHICS OF SWAGGER that caught my attention:
“Gaine’s responses to wrongful conviction and black middle class impotence featured humility as potentially edifying…For evidence of both popular and bourgois rebellion, see, respectively, Public Enemy’s classic album It Takes A Nation of Millions (1988) and the April 1990 Ebony cover story, “Success is the Best Revenge,” about Vanessa Williams…This portrait of bourgeois bliss engaged a specific triumph over racial prejudice, but the story’s title phrase emerged as a generic slogan of affluence as activism.”
In his book, Hill examines how prizewinning African American authors dealt with white literary expectations and incorporated black traditions in their novels including TonI Morrison’s BELOVED, Alice Walker’s THE COLOR PURPLE, Charles Johnson’s MIDDLE PASSAGE, Gaines’ A LESSON BEFORE DYING, and others.