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The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman
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Nov 10, 11

bookshelves: fiction-mainstream
Read in November, 2011

THE BLACKER THE BERRY. (1929). Wallace Thurman. ****.
This novel was one of the ones included in the Library of America’s collection called “Harlem Renaissance.” It addresses the issue of prejudice among blacks themselves of truly “black” women. Although they admired lighter-skinned blacks, ones who were truly a deep black were shunned and ignored. The heroine of this novel is a woman named Emma Lou. She was raised in Boise by her family who had managed to become mildly successful and achieve a middle-class status. Unfortunately Emma Lou was born black-black, and was resented by her mother, who couldn’t see how she could have had a baby so black. Emma Lou is first presented at her high school graduation, receiving her diploma. She was the only black person in her class, and was musing over her achievement and what it all meant to her. She was essentially a lonely person; nobody in her class had made any effort to become friends with her. She didn’t see any future in Boise, but her family offered to send her to UCLA. When she got there, she did see some other Negro girls, but only one of them was black like her. Unfortunately, this girl was a Southern Negro and displayed all of the crass behavior of an ignorant southerner – loud voice and poor grammer. She soon tired of this friend, even though the friend had lots of money and managed to introduce her to some other black girls on campus. Emma Lou continued to dwell mentally on her blackness, and saw it as the reason for her lack of friends and exclusion from the only black sorority on campus. She did well in school, but decided to leave to move East to Harlem to find out how “real” Negroes lived. Once there, she was again isolated, but did her best to find a job and to mix in with blacks of the “right sort.” She gets tangled up with a smooth talking black man at a cabaret during a dance session. Not knowing any better, she immediately falls in love with him and pursues him – much to her detriment. This is a depressing novel of growing up black-black and the harsh treatment dark-colored blacks receive from their peers – whether actual or not. It is also a harsh review of the morals and expectations of black men in Harlem; there’s not much good said about them by the author. I was really surprised about the negative approach taken by the author in this novel. It was certainly strong, with no apparent hope in sight, either for Emma Lou or for the man she ultimately pursues and captures. Recommended.
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