Breaking the Sheltering Bar: A Response Essay
African American literature has been prolific and appreciated especially during the early twentieth century, the time when discrimination was rampant and lynching and infanticide were the results of the racial supremacy of the White Americans. Literature was an important tool to voice out reactions, ideologies, representations, truths and suggestions about the state of the forthcoming changes in the American society.
Through the anti-lynching literature of Georgia Douglas Johnson and the introduction of African American culture in James Weldon Johnson, we will take an in depth look at literal and critical interpretations of a selection of poems and analyze intertextually how these literary selections merge and provide context about the African American heritage.
James Weldon Johnson in his poem “The Creation” pictured God as someone people can understand or relate to. He was not depicted as an illusory idea, but humanized to an extent we can visualize God. It was written in a vernacular similar to a preaching, with some familiar language and style similar to African American lingo. It describes creation in a lyrical manner, with repetitive lines.
The poem depicts not only a biblical story but also a tradition and a culture imbibed African Americans. The composition of the poem was written like a sermon. We can see that certain biblical styles present in the poem. This trend combined with the lyrical trend similar to gospel songs show a way of incorporating native oral traditions in African American cultures. In Rubén Jarazo’s article James Weldon Johnson. The Black Bard, simplicity and clarity are present in James Weldon Johnson’s literary styles.
African American culture and society had its roots from slavery and discrimination, caged in a mould that there is a superior, imperialist society over them. Such ideas of discrimination had developed into the use of literature especially in the early twentieth century to express and react and suggest what they feel in the scrutiny of other races.
According to Rubén Jarazo in his article James Weldon Johnson, The Black Bard, African American academics and the general voice of the society had placed their voices on paper, creating a boom of interest in African American writing. This is what they called the Harlem Renaissance. This movement gave way for the exploration of Black American’s past, and present, as well as representing their individuality and cultural distinction.
The transition of the focus of racial purity became more complex with the concept of cosmopolitanism. In the case of White and Black Americans having children, there is a new wave of discrimination as to where to draw the lines of superiority. This created literature about cosmopolites.
Georgia Douglas Johnson has always portrayed the power and importance of the cosmopolitanism. African American culture as embedded in the cultural roots of American society. She defined this concept in the poem Cosmopolite.
The African American race was depicted to be a mixture of different bloods, a product of the interplay in historical and social contexts. They are alienated but not alienated she stands comprehending; from the condition of her life she view earth’s frail dilemma she is a descendant of fused strengths.
Nothing contains her. She established the concept of the cosmopolite as a merge between two bloods, and though the cosmopolite seems alienated, nothing contains her, for she has this new strength, a cultural marriage between the African and American sensibilities. The issue is not anymore about the distinction between the two but how the concept of being one is affective of the society they are in.
These social and interracial contexts also appeared in Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poems. In “The Heart of a Woman”, she depicted the imagery of a woman, as a bird, in the strike of dawn a flying through turrets and vales, but still encaged in a concept of a home. As night falls, she becomes encaged in an alien plight, still in an inevitable seclusion.
According to C.C. O’Brien in the article Cosmopolitanism in Georgia Douglas Johnson’s Anti-Lynching Literature, women’s domesticism over the patriarchy and masculinity of imperialism connotes the status of African American status in society. As much as they wanted to be free, freedom is not absolute.
The White patriarchy that assumes a kindling and protective shelter, prohibits people to grow and take part in society. This can be interpreted in a way as O’Brien depicted the desire of African American communities for equality in social and political facets.