1 Kebei

African American Literature Essay Questions

Special Commissioned Essay on African-American Folklore and Literature, Barbara J. Wilcots

Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually under-privileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by.

—Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (1935)

Coined by William J. Thoms in 1846, the term folklore has multiple and varied definitions. Folklorist, anthropologist, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston defines folklore not only as “that which the soul lives by” but moreover as the essence of existence—“the boiled-down juice of human living.” (Zora Neale Hurston, Writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writer's Project: Go Gator and Muddy the Water, edited by Pamela Bordelon [New York: Norton, 1999]). Further, she argues, “folklore is the first thing that man makes out of the natural laws that he finds around him” (70). Hurston, who undertook a comprehensive, systematic study of African-American folk culture of the South, explains that the “group mind uses up a great part of its life span trying to ask infinity some questions about what is going on around its doorstep. And the more that group knows about its own doorstep, the more it can bend and control what it sees there” (70).

Rich in its variety, folk culture embodies a people's beliefs about the nature of the universe and their place in it. It encompasses the practices and rituals used to exert control over the forces of that universe, as well as the oral and artistic expressions through which the group preserves and passes on its history, communal values, and life strategies. The elements of folk culture that most clearly imbue the literature of African Americans include West African-derived spiritual beliefs, communal-based social customs, and oral and musical traditions. Hurston asserts that while beliefs and customs are the accumulated evidence of self-discovery, oral expression—and the music and literature that arise out of it—is “discovery in itself” (70). Through oral and artistic expression, the individual explores his or her interior life and discovers the connections among all aspects of the universe. Through these mediums of discovery, the folk preserve their knowledge and history, share their wisdom, and offer hope and direction to succeeding generations.

Toni Morrison/Beloved
A 15 page analysis of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Unlike traditional narrative techniques, there is no attempt in Beloved to deliver a chronological retelling of the protagonist's life as a slave. Rather...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

African-American Literature: Singing The People's Song
A five-page critical analysis on the state of African-American literature, with an emphasis on poetry. Includes an overview of black poetry from Phillis Wheatley through James Weldon Jonson, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to the cutting-edge poets...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Maya Angelou/ I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
A 3 page analysis of Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which is a complex work that not only details the events of Angelou's girlhood, but also illustrates the sociological structures that were in place in the South at that...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Leroi Jones/ Blues People
A 3 page analysis of Blues People: Negro Music in White America by Leroi Jones. This book is a comprehensive and highly readable account that traces the birth and development of African American music and the considerable effect that it has had on...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
This 5 page paper considers the three ways that Maya Angelou argued that second class citizens infringed on her personal development as she grew up in the pre-Civil War south. This paper reflects on whether these experiences were universal or if...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Comparing/Malcolm X and Maya Angelou
A 6 page essay that contrasts and compares "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" and the fifth book in Maya Angelou's serial autobiography "God's Children Need Traveling Shoes." The writer argues that in both books the authors demonstrate that visit in...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Bontemps and the 1800 Richmond Slave Revolt
An 11 page research paper that examines how Arna Bontemps' novel Black Thunder differs from the historical account of the 1800 Richmond slave revolt, and why. Bibliography lists 6 sources.
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Adrienne Kennedy/Funnyhouse of a Negro
A 5 page research paper that examines Adrienne Kennedy's highly symbolic play, "Funnyhouse of a Negro." The writer argues that the point of this play is not so much to convey a coherent narrative as to convey the feeling, the context of the...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Jacobs and Butler Look at Slavery
Jacobs and Butler Look at Slavery: This 11-page analytical essay examines Harriet Jacobs
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Pearl Cleage: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (1997)
(5 pp)Ava Johnson is the main character of Pearl Cleage's 1997, first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on a Ordinary Day. Not only is the narrator of the tale, but throughout the read and afterwards, she has become our "new best friend." This...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

August Wilson/Fences
A 5 page research paper that analyzes August Wilson's play Fences, which is a multigenerational look at an African American family and is, principally, the story of Troy Maxson and the psychological fences that isolate him from his friends and...
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Hope Springs Eternal in Raisin in the Sun
A 10-page research paper on Lorraine Hansberry
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Scrutinizing King Henry V in William Shakespeare
An 8 page paper which evaluates the male protagonists of Henry V and Captain Willmore by examining how the playwrights subject each to intense scrutiny throughout the course of the works. Bibliography lists 5 sources.
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

A Consideration of Gender in
A 4 page consideration of how gender affects decision in this futuristic novel by Nalo Hopkinson. No additional sources are listed.
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Early African American Literature: Comparing DuBois and Baldwin
This is a 5 page paper that provides an overview of DuBois and Baldwin. Similarities such as the questioning of the role of church in African American society are explored. Bibliography lists 2 sources.
Send me the Paper | View Abstract

Records 1 to 15 of 15

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *