How African-American Literature Has Changed

African-American Literature

The Implications of African-American Literature





How African-American Literature Has Changed — Across the Genres

Slave Narratives and Biographies


African-American Literature and Its Impact on Society

Literature is very important. Many people love to read, and still others love to write. Together, they make a winning combination. Literature is often studied, but one aspect of it has been getting very little attention. African-American literature has often times been ignored, or been only selectively visible. Whether or not African-American literature is influential on society, and whether or not it can be considered important and viable are questions and concerns that need to be answered.

The intent and purpose of this paper is to answer those questions, and others. However, in order to do that, there are several issues that will have to be discussed. Naturally, the importance of African-American literature will be discussed, but one must delve further into the topic in order to come to a true understanding of how influential and important this particular literature is.

In order to do that, one must also look at the implications of African-American literature. There are five areas where it has an impact. Social, economic, environmental, cultural, and historical aspects have all been affected by African-American literature. Whether these areas were affected because African-American literature got in and changed them, or whether they were affected because they were forced to remove themselves from this literature, will also be discussed.

For example, for quite some time in history African-Americans were not considered as important or worthy of anything as Caucasians were. Slavery had a great deal to do with this. Naturally, this affected their ability, not to write literature, but to have it published and treated as serious work. Because of this, many people who would likely have enjoyed reading works of African-American literature were unable to because factors relating to the ethnicity of the author kept the book from getting published, or kept it from appearing in the circles that many of these people moved in.

The changes in African-American literature are also very important. At least two genres will be discussed, one being slaved narratives and biographies and the other being novels, in order to understand how African-American literature has changed. It has not stayed the same over the course of time, and often it has evolved as history has evolved, changing and reshaping itself in order to fit the times that it finds itself in. Occasionally, however, a particular work of African-American literature will simply break away from what society considers as the norm for that time period, and the author will go off on his or her own to write something that he or she feels is vitally important. Some of the more exciting works of African-American literature have come about this way.

In order to examine the change in African-American literature across the genres, several specific authors will be mentioned, as well as a discussion of when they wrote their books, and what type of books they wrote. This will provide a clearer understanding of the changes that have occurred in African-American literature, and will also be easier to point out and discuss then more specific information about the literary styles that belonged to a particular period of history.

Lastly, the conclusion will summarize all of the information listed in the paper in regards to African-American literature. It will reiterate the importance of this literature, as well as reminding the reader of the many areas that have been impacted by it. The changes in this literature will also be briefly reiterated, as that is an extremely important part of the evolution of African-American writing.

African-American literature was very influential, and it should be considered as important and viable in the literary world. More study of it is clearly needed, as many studies of literature deal primarily with Caucasian works, while ignoring the important contributions that have been made by African-American writers, researchers, scientists, and scholars. While many people have been focusing on Caucasian literary works, African-American writers have been continuing to put their thoughts and feelings down on paper for those who were interested in reading them.

The Importance of African-American Literature

As has been said, African-American literature is very important. Its importance lies not only in its literary value, for some of it is wonderful work, but its importance also lies in the contributions that it has made to society. While most of these will be discussed in the following section on implications, some comments about the importance of this literature are necessary here.

African-American literature was important to the people that wrote it, because they were expressing their feelings and beliefs about the conditions they were facing in a primarily Caucasian-run world. While this is not the case with every single piece of African-American literature ever written, many of the books that were written by African-Americans either have this theme running through them, or have it buried under the surface in metaphors that are used throughout the book (Transforming, 33).

This literature was not only important to the African-American people who created it, however, but to others of the same race as well. Many people of the same race related to these books, and they not only realized that they were not the only ones who dealt with the hardships brought onto many of them by Caucasians, but that someone else out there understood what it was like.

This created a feeling of immense relief for many African-Americans, who felt that they were the only ones who understood what it was like to suffer at the hands of the Caucasian people, and now realized that they were mistaken. They felt more understood and appreciated. Even though some of the African-American authors had never been slaves, or had not come from families that had been tied to slavery, many of them had stories of other types of oppression, and others told tales of poverty and degradation (Transforming, 33).

Extreme amounts of emotional turmoil and pain seemed to be part of what kept African-American writers going when times got difficult. The writings of many African-American authors also helped to increase the sense of unity and brotherhood that was felt by the African-American race as a whole, and helped them to realize how they had come such a long way since the days of slavery.

They truly have come along way, when it is looked at from the perspective of years. They have one of many rights and captured many freedoms that they did not have a few short years ago. With luck and support from others, times will continue to improve for African-Americans in the literary field and elsewhere, and equality will be seen as a dream that might possibly become attainable.

African-American literature was also important to many Caucasians. The more African-American literature or that was written, the more people began to take it seriously. While it was still more difficult to have a book published if you were black than if you were white, eventually it was no longer impossible. Many fine authors, and many wonderful works of literature, were created by African-Americans, as shall be examined in the upcoming section on how African-American literature has changed.

African-American literature accomplished one others thing of great importance. It helped to break down some of the barriers between blacks and whites (Blackface, 14). Through a knowledge of history, one will recall that there was a long period of time in which the Caucasian race considered themselves superior. It is true that many still feel this way. However, as times began to change, slavery was abolished, and more African-Americans learned to read and write, the literary scene began to grow.

Now there are many black authors, and quite a few of these have been inspired not only by the works of others that have come before them, but by the history and struggles that their people have endured. While these struggles were harsh and painful at the time, it is suspected that they made for many wonderful novels as African-Americans poured out their thoughts, fears, and dreams into the books that they wrote.

The struggles faced by the authors helped to make the books that they wrote realistic and believable. It was this sense of realism and truth that brought so much to the writings of many of the earlier black authors, and still brings the same qualities to the black authors of today. While the struggles that were faced by African-Americans may have been difficult, they created many wonderful opportunities for talented writers to express their deepest feelings and fears as they related to slavery, oppression, and anything else that the writer felt would be relevant to African-Americans

The early black authors knew what it was like to be a slave, or they knew the stories that their mother or grandmother had told them about slavery. It has not been that long ago that slavery was abolished from this country. Many African-Americans still carry the war wounds from their injured people.

These African-Americans write to not only to express themselves, but to express feelings and thoughts that seem to collectively belong to a group of people, tied together by struggles in the past and in ethnicity that they are still working to overcome, even in present-day society. But the works of literature that have been produced by African-Americans indicate that, at least in the literary field, they have caught up to and oftentimes surpassed their Caucasian literary counterparts.

The Implications of African-American Literature

There are many implications for African-American literature. It has affected this country socially, economically, environmentally, culturally, and historically. In this section, each one of these specific implications will be examined, in order to have a clearer understanding of the full impact that African-American literature has made. Without a study of these implications, African-American literature, while still important, does not seem nearly as significant throughout world history as it actually has been.

Without realizing how African-American literature affected so many different areas of life, it is more difficult not only to see the impact that it has had, but to understand the changes that it went through as history evolved. Naturally, books and other literary works written by Caucasians and people of other ethnicities underwent change as well, but because of issues such as slavery, probably no other type of literature underwent more changes in such short of a time as did the literature written by African-Americans. The struggles that many of these people went through, or saw their family members go through, were expressed in the heartfelt sentiments and beliefs they showed in their writing.

However, it is important to understand that some of the implications for society don’t have anything to do with slavery. Slavery and hardships for African-American individuals have been much discussed in this paper to this point, and they will continue to be mentioned frequently, since they are such a large and obvious issue in the history of this country.

It is not the intention of this paper, however, to insist that slavery and are oppression were the only thing on African-American writer’s minds, or the only thing they were any good at writing about. They did write many volumes on this issue, but as will be seen, there were many other issues of concerned that they chose to discuss in their literary creations.

Slavery is not the only thing that African-American people are capable of writing about. As will be seen in this section, African-American writers had much to offer in all aspects of literature, and were often pioneers and highly respected individuals in some of the more scientific and research-based fields in which they wrote.

Social Implications

The social implications of African-American literature are very important. For example, they helped to break down barriers between blacks and whites during a time when it seemed that these barriers might never come down. It is true that there are still barriers between blacks and whites to this day, and that some old prejudices remain. However, the Caucasian population at large has basically accepted African-Americans as equals. There are several reasons that equality has come about, and all of them are important and significant in the history of this country.

Some of this was due to legislation and other issues that forced these feelings on the white population. Some of it was due to the growth of the nation, and to the realization that perhaps skin color was not as important to the inner worth and beauty of a person as was first thought. Some of it, however, came about because of literature. The literature written by African-Americans is often much bolder than the literature written by Caucasian authors. Because of this, insights are given into the social beliefs and attitudes of the African-American people (Sailer, 51).

Traditionally, African-Americans have been a more social race than Caucasians. They often have larger immediate families, larger extended families, and bigger groups of friends than Caucasians do. Often, several generations will share the same house for a number of years. African-Americans as a generalization appear to be more open and outgoing than many Caucasians are.

While this is not true of every African-American person, it is true of many. Because of their feelings about the strong ties that belong to families and friends, their literature could not help but reflect this. This was extremely important, because up until the point that Caucasians began to read and understand African-American literature, the social feelings and beliefs of African-Americans were largely not realized (Lock 109).

It was obvious to Caucasians that many black people had larger families and stayed close to their relatives and friends, but it was often thought that this was because they were attempting to protect themselves from Caucasians. It was believed that they were afraid. While some may have been, the main reason that African-Americans stayed so close to their families is because they saw the importance of love and family ties. The creation of more African-American literature helped Caucasians to realize the significance of the love and respect that many African-American people had for their parents and grandparents.

This made African-Americans seem more human to Caucasians; more like them. Equality between blacks and whites was helped by literature in this way, since the writing down of one’s feelings is often a much easier and more honest way to express those feelings then trying to speak them out loud and explain them to someone who is not of the same cultural background or understanding.

Economic Implications

The economic implications of African-American literature were also very important. The influx of literature written by African-Americans provided revenues, not only for the writers, but for many of the publishing houses who agreed to publish African-American works. At first, African-American literature did not help the publishing houses, because prejudices remained about the ethnicity of the authors, and hence their abilities to create works that were worthwhile in the eyes of Caucasian people (Lock, 109).

Soon, however, as more African-Americans began to buy books written by other people of their race, the publishing houses began to make money off of the few African-American writers that were desiring to publish their work. When they realized that money was being made, this encouraged them to recruit other African-American writers. The number of African-American authors grew significantly when publishing houses realized that there was money to be made.

It was not long before many Caucasians began to read books written by African-Americans. It is possible that some of them may not have known at the time they purchased the book that it was written by an African-American, but even if they found out later on it made little difference as long as they felt the book had value. Many Caucasians were undoubtedly surprised that, not only had they read a book by someone of a race that they considered inferior, but that the book itself had a great deal of redeeming value.

Obviously, there were economic implications for the writers of these books as well. Many African-American writers deserved more royalties and credit than what they got, but because many of them did not understand the intricacies and complexities of the publishing world, they were easily cheated. As time moved on, this became less of a problem. Partially because many of the larger publishing houses were very reputable, and more African-American authors were having their first works or subsequent works purchased by the larger publishing houses.

Secondly, African-Americans became smarter. This is not to imply that the African-American race is, or was, stupid. What it means is that for a very long time African-Americans in this country were so oppressed and held down that they were not even allowed to learn how to read and write. Even once they learned of these basic skills, and went to school, many of the schools they attended were substandard in both equipment and education to the schools the Caucasian children attended.

Because of this, before a great many years had passed, African-Americans were very intelligent, not only in the ways of family and home life as they had been from the start, but in a business and schooling sense as well. Unfortunately, they were not able to express that intelligence because they did not have the “book smarts” to express what they felt inside. Their day, however, was coming.

As desegregation occurred and more and more blacks and whites begin to attend the same schools, the African-American race found ways to show their intelligence to the rest of the world. Due to their better schooling opportunities, they learned a great deal more about issues such as contracts, money, and how royalties should be paid to authors. They no longer allowed themselves to be cheated, and were often marketing their literature to several different places to ensure that they got the best royalties that they could from the most reputable publishing house that they offered the literature to.

Environmental Implications

The environmental implications of African-American literature were not as strong as some of the other implications. However, it is important to note that African-Americans did not only write fiction novels or accounts related to slavery and hardship. While all of these things were important, African-Americans in general were not so fixated on the hardships that they had endured that they had nothing else to say in their literature.

Many African-Americans were moving into other fields such as science and research. A great many of these individuals wrote books and information on various issues, and the environment was one of those issues that they felt held a great deal of importance. Through the works of many black researchers, everyone in the United States regardless of their race learned about the environment. One of the first men to discover information about to how spiders build webs, and how ants know how to do what they do, was a black research scientist named Charles Henry Turner (Saez, 204).

People like Turner helped others understand and learn about the environment. Turner not only studied spiders and ants, but he was also interested in wasps and many other insects. Because of this interest in bugs, which started in his youth, he provided a wealth of information not only to the students who took his classes, but to the world at large. He was a pioneer in his field.

Environmental issues do not necessarily have to be about rain forests or pollution. They can also be about the things that one finds in one’s own backyard, and the insects that one encounters on a walk through the forest. These were the kinds of things that Turner concerned himself with, and while he was not alone, he was one of the most significant African-American researchers to make a contribution to literature in the environmental area. His work spanned many years, and taught other researchers and scientists a great deal about the behaviors of various insects.

Cultural Implications

The cultural implications of African-American literature are very significant. They tie in somewhat with the social implications, although they are not quite the same. The social implications deal more with how others respond to their works of literature, while the cultural implications deal more with how those of the same race respond to the literature, as well as how other races respond to African-American culture in settings that are not social, such as schools and workplaces (Associated Press, A2).

Culture is important, and many African-American individuals have made sure that it is not forgotten in their literature and other creative works. While the culture and traditions of many African-Americans who grew up in the United States are not quite the same as those who still live in Africa, some of the culture from the African continent remains. That does not mean that African-Americans necessarily want to go back to Africa, or that all African-American people even feel strong ties to that country. Many African-Americans who have been in this country for generations do not necessarily see themselves as African-Americans, but only as Americans. That is as it should be, if that is the feelings and beliefs that this group of people hold and are content with.

However, many African-American people have made an effort recently to get to “back to their roots.” During the years of slavery, African-Americans worshipped their own gods out in the fields, and still had many beliefs that came over with them on the boats from Africa. As time wore on, many of these people became more “Americanized” and abandoned some of their more traditional African beliefs. It seemed as though these beliefs laid dormant for quite some time, and just in the last 10 or 20 years have African-Americans made seemingly more obvious moves to get back to their heritage (Mahiri, 336).

The different uses of colors and the African tribal themes have made a resurgence in many of the homes and businesses of African-American individuals. The older beliefs have also made a resurgence in literature. African-Americans have always written to some extent about cultural heritage, but these themes have become more apparent over the last couple of decades than they were for a while (Mahiri, 337). This is good in more than one way, as it benefits many people in society, both black and white.

Firstly, it helps re-establish ties between African-Americans and their traditional beliefs and values. For those who are not interested in re-establishing these ties, they can simply be ignored, but for those who feel the desire to reconnect with their tribal ancestors, there are many books of encouragement and help available. The second way that these books are helping, is to teach Caucasians and other races about African-American culture. This is important, because we all have to live together in the United States, and it would be a much simpler life for many if all got along.

While it is true that there will likely never be a day when everyone gets along, understandings of cultural attitudes and issues can go a long way towards helping one race establish true contact and understanding with another. Books that deal with the culture of African-Americans, not only in stating what that culture is, but explaining where the beliefs and values came from, is very valuable for people who work on a daily basis with those of other races.

For example, many doctors and therapists have difficulty treating African-American people because their belief systems are different than those of the Caucasian race. What might be misconstrued as a particular psychological problem in an African-American patient is not necessarily a problem at all, but rather a mechanism by which they deal with their cultural attitudes.

In colleges and universities all over the country it is becoming more and more important, especially in areas of study where the graduate will have to deal with people on a regular basis, to have sensitivity training or ethnic skills classes. These classes work to teach students who are about to go out into the world that there are cultural differences between races, and that these differences must be respected (Morgan, PG).

Quite often, these classes require students to read works written by African-Americans and other ethnic minorities in order to gain a better understanding of the inner differences between the two cultures. While it is true that human beings are very much the same, it is also true that there are differences between Caucasians and African-Americans other than the obvious one of skin color. Most of these differences are not about the extent to which they are human beings, as was believed back in the days of slavery, but rather the differences lie in the traditions and values that the people hold, and the history that has been passed down from generation to generation (Harris, 71).

Historical Implications

Historical implications are the last area that African-American literature has profoundly affected. History has seen some extreme changes, and much of history has been written from the perspective of Caucasian people. For example, if one picks up almost any history book and turns to a section on slavery, they will see what the white people have written about how the black people were oppressed. Some of what they write might be accurate, but it is likely that the true feelings and opinions of the African-American people who were actually enslaved have not been captured.

Only those who were actually there know how it feels to be a slave, and only those who belong to the same race and the same families have the knowledge and stories passed down from generation to generation about what slavery was really like. While it is true that any African-American who has encountered slavery or other forms of oppression could explain this to a Caucasian, and then the Caucasian individual could write about it, it would still not be written in the same way.

The reason behind this is that African-Americans have beliefs and cultural values, as has been mentioned, that change and affect the way they look at things. Just as Caucasians and Latinos do not see specific things in the same manner, neither do Caucasians and African-Americans. More accurate accounts of slavery have been written by African-Americans, and they do portray slavery somewhat differently from Caucasian accounts when they are compared side by side (Beyond, 38).

This emphatically does not mean that there were not Caucasian people who were supportive of African-Americans, and who wanted to see slavery abolished. It also does not mean that accounts written by Caucasians are necessarily wrong when it comes to slavery. What it means is that these Caucasian-written accounts have not captured the actual essence of what it meant to be a slave. While they can talk at length about the physical hardships that these people endured, they cannot actually comprehend the mental and emotional anguish that many of these African-American people experienced. They cannot understand the lack of worth that was felt by many African-Americans, and they do not know what it is like to feel no better than an animal.

Certainly, it is true that there are some Caucasian individuals who would know what these feelings are like, due to horrible family lives, kidnapping, incest, or some other appalling tragedy. While these people who have dealt with horrible experiences in their lives might have more empathy and understanding for the hardships that African-Americans faced, they are a small minority, and even their understanding would still be tainted by their cultural and traditional beliefs.

As a generalization, however, the white race has never been treated to such extreme and painful degradation as the black race experienced. Therefore, the ability of African-Americans to write about this experience is naturally going to be better than that of the Caucasians, who cannot completely bend their minds around the concept of being a piece of a white man’s property.

Slave narratives and biographies written by African-Americans are still extremely popular, even in the present day, and will likely continue to be popular as history goes along. They are individual stories, but they also remind others of the travesties that occurred in history, and how individuals in this country should make an effort to understand and appreciate their fellow men, not work to enslave them.

How African-American Literature Has Changed — Across the Genres

African-American literature has changed a great deal since the first books were published. Not only has the subject matter expanded, but the lives, beliefs, and experiences of those African-American individuals who write books in the present-day are much different than the experiences of the first black authors. Because of this, this section will deal with how literature has changed in a slightly different and a somewhat unorthodox way.

In other words, rather than spend several pages discussing only the specific literary expectations of various time periods, it is likely that the changes in African-American literature will be better acknowledged by taking a look at a specific individual who wrote novels and other literary works.

That is not to say that literary expectations will not be discussed, because the works created by the African-American authors must be examined in the context of what was appropriate for the time. However, it is not necessary to examine only what was expected of one during a specific literary period, only to point out that a specific author did not subscribe to these principles, and so went off on his or her own to create a slightly different literary work. This would not work to explain the specific contributions provided by African-American authors throughout history, or how these contributions changed over time; rather it would only work to explain how specific literary periods change over time, which is not related directly to the point of this paper.

Since there is not room in this paper to discuss every literary genre, two specific genres will be selected, and the different authors in those genres and how those genres changed over time will be compared. For purposes of ease of discussion, slave narratives and biographies will be used as one genre, and novel will be used as the other. It is important to note that, while African-American authors often used some of their own experience throughout their novels, novels are still classified as works of fiction, whereas obviously, slave narratives and biographies are nonfiction work.

Slave Narratives and Biographies

Slave narratives and biographies were the earliest works written by African-American authors. Even though many of these works have been around for a significant period of time, they are still popular today. Slave narratives were not continually written over many years, because those who could actually write the narratives eventually became too old to either write the stories or remember them. Eventually, all of those who were enslaved in this country passed away. Before that happens, however, a great many slave narratives were produced. Some of the more significant ones will be examined briefly in this section.

Biographies, however, are still being written about some of those who lived their lives as slaves. Many times members of a former slave’s family will write a biography about the life of the slave, based on information that was told to them by their parents or grandparents. While these are not exactly the same as slave narratives, because they are not the personal account of the actual slave, they are still interesting and insightful. They are worth much as historical documentation, and also as important markers of the human condition. Slave narratives read in the present day are constant reminders of how far this country has come toward believing in equality for all.

As an example of the slave narrative, Frederick Douglass is a particularly good choice. Between 1840 and 1860, when there was a great deal of interest in the romantic movement in literature, the slave narratives began to really take off and be accepted as serious works of literature. It was in 1845 that Douglass wrote his narrative (Frederick, 2003). Ten years following that he wrote a second autobiography, but it was somewhat different from the one he had written ten years previously (Campbell, 2003).

It was not as romantic, for one thing, and it was more honest and truthful about his actual treatment at the hands of his white master than his original work. This is largely due to the fact that in the ten years between the two books, the romantic movement in literature had died down, and literature had moved on to a more realistic interpretation of events. While the first narrative was obviously not a work of fiction, some of the things that occurred in it were fictionalized slightly in order to draw the reader into the rest of the book.

In the years between 1760 and1947, over 200 slave narratives were published throughout the United States and England. While this seems like a large number, it is not really compared to the 6000 slave narratives that are known to exist currently. Slave narratives had several purposes, but there were for specific purposes that were the most common. These included arousing the sympathy of the reader while promoting humanitarianism, emphasizing many traditional Christian ideas, showing an acceptance toward the ideals of a white-dominated society, and emphasizing the specific cruelty that was known to be found in many individual slave owners (Campbell, 2003).

Slave narratives were popular for many reasons, and they were largely dependent on the King James version of the Bible as well as many other religious documents for their influences. Their popularity was due largely to the fact that they contained not only religious influence and information but an array of lurid and extremely violent scenes. Some of the descriptions of life in the southern states, as well as propaganda related to the Civil War and abolition also made of these slave narratives extremely popular (Campbell, 2003).

Many of the slave narratives were somewhat similar in scope. For example, many described beatings and other horrors at the hands of the white masters. Some of these were done in an honest and open writing style, while others, mainly during the romantic period, when Frederick Douglass wrote to his first narrative, were done in satirical and sometimes sarcastic ways.

Other common themes that ran through slave narratives were freedom, the quest for literacy, and in-depth discussions about losing family members and family ties to death and destruction during slavery (Campbell, 2003). Slaves did not often live a long life, because they worked so hard. The women often had a better chance because they likely worked indoors, but most of the men toiled in the fields all day, and often their lives were cut short by the simple idea that they had literally worked themselves to death.

Both Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou were also very significant contributors to African-American literature (Walker, 94). Angelou’s writings, especially her extremely popular “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” have become instrumental in the lives of many African-American people, and her influence does not extend only to people that belong to her race, but many people of all races and ethnicities have appreciation for her work (Asim, 1997).


African-American novels were written by a great number of authors, including Toni Morrison. Morrison came from humble beginnings, but she did not come from slavery or intense poverty as many African-American people did. She grew up with a desire to write, and went to college where she became a teacher. She uses her teaching ability as well as her writing ability to make a difference in the lives of others.

Many of Morrison’s novels deal with the struggle of some of the less affluent black individuals in this country. While they are fictitious, they are also in a sense very real. In other words, even though she does not relate biographical information, she does express her feelings about the lives and condition of many black people in this country through her literary fiction. Morrison is not the only one to do this, but she is by far the most popular African-American woman novelist of the day (The Bluest, 2000).

Most novels written by African-Americans relate to the same types of issues that Morrison discusses in her novels. They deal with many things that biographies or slave narratives also dealt with, but they do it in the sense of marketing it as fiction. The characters in the novels are not real, and neither are the places or the troubles but they encounter, but yet in the minds and hearts of the African-Americans to write fictional novels, the characters and their trials and tribulations are extremely real.

Some of the writers of novels have been through these trials themselves, and even though they do not consider the novels to be autobiographical, there is a good bit of a writer in any novel that he or she creates. It is something that many authors are not able to avoid, nor do they want to. Even though a novel is a work of fiction, there must be some realism or some common ground between the characters of the novel and the reader of the novel in order to develop an understand what the writer is trying to say. It is for this reason that many African-American authors choose to write about the difficulties that African-American people encounter. They understand it. Many of them have been there. If they have not personally been there, they often know those who have.

Novels have not changed a great deal in the African-American literary genre since they first appeared. They still deal with many of the same problems, and although technology has grown and prejudice has lessened there are still many barriers that African-American people are working to overcome. Even though the government may say that African-Americans and Caucasians are equal, those who have lived in the real world know that this is not really the case for everyone.

There are thousands of ways to keep a black individual from getting a job or going to college, as long as it does not appear to have anything to do with race. These difficult issues are the things that Morrison and others deal with in their novels. They deal with the harsh realities that many African-American people face. Granted, some of these are also faced by poverty stricken Caucasians, or people of other races, but it is easier for an African-American author to write about people of the same race, just as it is easier for a Caucasian author to write about people of the same race. They understand each other better.

Morrison’s novels, as well as many other African-American writers novels, do not deal just with things such as jobs and college. They also deal with crime, poverty, drugs, and oppression. These are all things that many poor blacks in this country have to deal with, and they are things that many African-American people can relate to, regardless of their social class or status at the present time (The Bluest, 2000).


From the examination of the above literature, it is easy to see how the writings of African-Americans have greatly affected society throughout the years. From the early books written about slavery to the books of today that deal more with understandings and agreement between blacks and whites, African-American literature has come a significantly long way in a relatively short period of time, which is an important and worthy feat in itself. Likely, had African-Americans not dealt with the hardships that were forced on them earlier on in history, their literature would not to be as beautiful and expressive as it is today.

The importance of African-American literature can no longer be denied, since the information throughout this paper indicates that African-Americans have had a significant impact on the literature that has been produced in this country. Originally, African-American literature was mainly about to the writer of the book. It was a desire to express what they were going through, and some of the tragedies that were either happening to them now, or had happened to them or their loved ones in the past.

Because of this, their writing was very expressive and sometimes painful, but it always gave the impression of being honest and true. The writing of African-Americans is still like that, and is often more open and honest about painful or embarrassing issues than the writings of many Caucasian authors. Because of the massive contributions that African-American authors have made to the literary scene, their importance in literary circles can no longer be ignored as it once was.

The many implications that African-American literature has had on society can also not be ignored. Socially, African-American literature introduced not only distinctions between separate races and classes, but it introduced commonalities as well. These commonalities were often things that higher-society Caucasian people would not have previously considered. Early on, they saw black people as slaves and nothing more. As time wore on, some blacks and whites were friendlier toward each other, but a distinct distance often remained based on the fact that Caucasians and African-Americans apparently thought they were much different from one another. Inside, when one does not look at the color of the skin, most of the human race is relatively the same. In some cases, it took African-American literature to point this information out.

Economically, African-American literature provided a boon to the industry, because many African-Americans did not have a great deal of interest in reading books that were only written by Caucasian authors. It was not that there was necessarily prejudice about the quality of these books, but merely that Caucasians and African-Americans often did not share the same experiences. Books written by people of their own race often appealed much more strongly to the African-American population. It was true, also, that many Caucasians read African-American-written literature with interest, in an effort to gain understanding about what had occurred in African-American history, and the difficulties that many African-Americans had faced.

Environmental, cultural, and historical implications from African-American literature were also great. Many people learned about environmental issues from the opinions and research of African-American authors. They also learned about African-American culture, and that the culture and traditions of African-American people who were born and raised in this country are different from those who still live in Africa.

The historical impact of African-American literature was large because, even though many Caucasians have been taught about slavery and other suffrage issues, they did not see it from the same perspective that African-American people saw it from. Reading African-American literature on this topic gave Caucasians new insights into the pain that many of their ancestors had inflicted.

It is still true that Caucasian people do not see slavery in the same light that African-Americans do, but it is possible that, through study of African-American literature, they can begin to have more of an understanding of the concerns and fears that still plagued African-Americans in this country today

The worth of African-American literature is difficult to measure, but it appears safe to say that it is large. In the future, it is easily believed that there will be a continuance of the creativity that has been running through African-Americans in the literary field. Likely, even more stunning works of literature will be created out of both the pain and the hardship that belonged to the African-American race for so long.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “90% of public school teachers white, national study finds.” San Francisco Chronicle, (17 Oct. 1996): A2.

Asim, Jabari. African-American literature in the black. 1 June 1997. The Washington Post. 17 March 2003.

Beyond Academics: Harvard’s Dream Team Has Salvaged Black Studies.” Emerge (1999):38.

Blackface Renaissance: Scholars discuss the resurging interest in.” Black Issues In Higher Education (1999): 14.

Campbell, Donna M. The Slave Narrative. 8 January 2003. Literary Movements. 16 March 2003.

Frederick Douglass and the development of slave narratives. 2003. Literary Movements. 16 March 2003.

Harris, David E.; Raimon, Eve A., “What is race? A transdisciplinary course/a pedagogical challenge.” College Teaching 46 (1998): 68-72.

Lock, Helen. “Building up from fragments: the oral memory process in some recent African-American written narratives.” College Literature 22 (1995): 109-121.

Mahiri, Jabari. “Streets to schools: African-American youth culture and the classroom.” The Clearing House, 71 (1998): 335-339.

Morgan, Joan. “We Want to Read About Ourselves: Writers and Scholars Assess State.” Black Issues In Higher Education (1996): PG.

Saez, Barbara J. “Beginning Ethic American Literatures.,” Melus, (2002): 204.

Sailer, Steve. “The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature.(book reviews).” National Review 49 (1997): 50-53.

The Bluest Eye. 27 April 2000. Oprah’s book club. 18 March 2003.;jsessionid=C4UBDNAZAHQGTLARAYGB3KQ

Transforming the Study of Literature – and Ourselves.” Black Issues in Higher Education (1998): 33.

Walker, Pierre A. “Racial protest, identity, words and form in Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.” College Literature, 47 (1995): 91-119.

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