African-American Fiction

Let’s Discuss — White Butterfly by Walter Mosley

I kept my silence and Hobbes took his friendly hand back. I was in a hurry to get to my house. I felt bad about turning down the policeman. I felt miserable that young women would die. But there was nothing I could do. I had my own life to attend to–didn’t I? (20)

So what’s new with Easy? Well, he’s living with his adopted son, Jesus, a new wife and baby. They’re one, big, happy family–except not really, or not for long anyways. Easy’s called on once again to help the police find a serial killer of exotic dancers/strippers/women of that variety. But the time Easy spends away from home, enveloped in secrets of the L.A underworld, eventually takes a toll on his family life.

This story is as much about personal transgression as it is criminal wrongdoing. What do I mean by personal transgression? …well it seems Easy married his wife, simply so he can say he has a wife at home. And then there’s his daughter who is named Edna–daringly close to his ex-lover/best friend’s ex-wife’s name, Etta. Now, I’m sure he loves his wife and daughter, but I’m also sure he’s more in love with the idea of having a wife and child at home, in the house he bought all those years ago. It’s an attempt to grasp some normalcy and it ties back in with his struggle over possession in A Red Death.

In the end, we see where creeping around at questionable hours, in questionable places gets him and the family he always wanted. Easy once built up, is stripped down.

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Let’s Discuss — Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

But he dropped his eyes, suspecting a flaw in his argument. ‘I just don’t want him beating on me all the time,’ he said at last. ‘I ain’t no dog.’ She sighed, and turned slightly away, looking out of the window. ‘Your Daddy beats you,’ she said, ‘because he loves you.’ (21)

One cannot read this book and overlook the concept of the father. In this story, paternal influence, more specifically, fatherly love is crucial to the process of self-discovery. The absence of that particular kind of love damages every single character. Yes, the father; protection, guidance, love. And when said influence is scarce or non-existent, it is sometimes replaced with a different source; a different paternal institution, a different Father. The Lord.

But this paternal connection does not work for everyone. It’s a source of conflict for the fatherless and loveless. Central character John is the best example. John cannot love the Lord because his father loves the Lord, yet the father does not love his son, John. It doesn’t make sense to John. Because of his confusion he refuses to be part of anything his father is devoted to…What’s the reason? Why can’t a father love his son?

Sin.

John’s father, Gabriel, cannot accept what John represents. John is the embodiment of Gabriel’s sin. A younger Gabriel, impregnated a young woman, and out of fear and shame sent her away. She died young, as did her son—his son. To make up for his sin and to seek redemption, he decides to raise John as his own. You see, Gabriel believes he has been forgiven, that God knows his life, but Gabriel cannot forget. His hate of his former sins, emerges as hate for his sons.

And he felt his father behind him. And he felt the March wind rise, striking through his damp clothes, against his salty body. He turned to face his father—he found himself smiling, but his father did not smile (291)

When John finally accepts the Lord, he accepts his father. He accepts their dynamic, his fate and ultimately himself. And this is very interesting because it is exactly what his father did–accepted the Lord, but somehow continued to live in denial.

Let’s Discuss — A Red Death by Walter Mosley

I didn’t believe in history, really. Real was what was happening to me right then. Real was a toothache and a man you trusted who did you dirt. Real was an empty stomach or a woman saying yes, or a woman saying no. Real was what you could feel…Chaim was a good man; better than a lot of people I knew. But he was dead. He was history, as they say, and I was holding my gun in the dark, being real (286)

We meet up with Easy Rawlins five years later, sweeping the floors of some apartment complex at the corner of 91st Street and 91st Place. We learn that life has been a little kinder to him, but it won’t last for long. It never does. Rawlins is forced to strike a deal with an FBI agent, to spy on Chaim Wenzler, a big, bad communist working within the First African Baptist Church.

Easy Rawlins is a great protagonist because he’s layered. In A Red Death it’s all about Easy’s possessions; the possession of self, and his desire to possess what is not his. As for the last part, I’m referring specifically to his affair with his best friend’s wife, Etta Mae. The dynamic between the members of what I call his inner circle, (Etta Mae and Mouse) is an interesting one. Easy respects Mouse, fears Mouse even, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with Etta Mae. Even though Easy knows Mouse is a bad man, there is still a great deal of envy. He never admits this, but the feeling is inherent in his willingness to help Mouse make things right with his family–the family Easy wishes he had.

The communist twist left me slightly ambivalent because Easy holds no intense animosity towards Chaim Wenzler. However, Easy has to deceive Wenzler to keep his possessions. In this case, communism isn’t a redefined “enemy”, it’s simply another added element of danger. Another risk for a man trying to do good for himself in a bad world.