The Apocalypse in African-American Fiction

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9780813013893: The Apocalypse in African-American Fiction
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"Creative, original, and vigorous. . . . The selected pieces represent a breadth of works by novelists considered touchstones in African-American literature."--Emma Waters Dawson, Florida A&M University

"An interesting twist in interpretation of a long-standing literary trope--an apocalypse--carried beyond a traditional Eurocentric analysis to an Afrocentric analysis grounded in black culture, including its own language, its own style, its own trickster tales, and its own legitimate folk heroes."--Clenora Hudson-Weems, University of Missouri, Columbia

The image of the end of the world--James Baldwin's "the fire next time"--permeates African-American fiction in ways that are distinctive and original. In this exploration of the relationship between biblical apocalyptics and black fiction, Maxine Montgomery argues that American writers see apocalyptic events in an immediate and secular sense, as a tenable response to racial oppression.

 This work analyzes the characters, plots, and themes of seven novels that rely on the apocalyptic trope: The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Chesnutt, Native Son by Richard Wright, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, The System of Dante's Hell by LeRoi Jones, Sula by Toni Morrison, and The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.

 Each is structured around a catastrophe of some sort--either actualized or anticipated--that is to bring about a new beginning. In each, the dominant tone is ironic, and Montgomery directs close attention to the ways the novelists attempt to reverse or subvert the notion of the end of the world in mainstream America. Together, she says, the novels indicate the richness and variety of the apocalypse as an idiom, and "they shed light on the ongoing and often elusive quest for equality in a peculiarly American promised land."

 Montgomery also traces a vision of the apocalypse from the oral beginnings of its expression in folk art to its presence in the oratory of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, among others.

Maxine Lavon Montgomery is assistant professor of English at Florida State University. She is the author of articles published in African-American Review, College Language Association Journal, and The Literary Griot.

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Maxine Lavon Montgomery is assistant professor of English at Florida State University.

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