Christy's Reviews > There Is Confusion

There Is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset
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's review
Dec 30, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: african-american-lit-and-history, readinglist1
Read in December, 2007

There Is Confusion is a rather enjoyable read (especially when compared to the earlier books on my reading list). It follows the fortunes of three young African Americans at the beginning of the 20th century as they fall in love, follow their ambitions, and try to find happiness. I found myself actually caring about what happened to these people and identifying with large parts of one of the central characters' personality and struggles--race aside, that is. Of course, that's the trick. Part of the point of this novel is that race cannot be truly set aside.

As a novel about the ways in which race is a part of everyday American life--from the lower class to the upper, from the white former slaveowner to the black descendant of slaves--this is a very effective novel. It is even more effective in its consideration of the additional burdens black women face that black men or white women do not face.

And it is here that the strengths and the weaknesses of the novel are most clear. On the one hand, Fauset provides the reader with a (relatively) broad range of female opportunities in these two characters, whether in the arts, in the business world, or in the home. This is a nice change from novels in which black women are merely housewives or domestic servants. But on the other hand, the conclusion of the novel requires significant shifts in both Joanna and Maggie's priorities which are not always believable and which are sometimes problematic. In these two shifts Fauset retreats from the strong feminist argument she had made with Joanna's character in particular to a more traditional representation of women and the possibilities for their happiness.

The big question, though, is how all of this relates to the issues of race that the novel raises. What do these plot twists and relationships have to say about the status of African Americans in the early 20th century and what have they to say about the responsibilities of African Americans as individuals to the race as a whole? The answer is simple, really: love. Love is, according to Joanna, "a pattern to guide us out of the confusion" caused by the race question. Her brother Philip sums it up even more clearly: "Happiness, love, contentment in our own midst, make it possible for us to face those foes without. 'Happy Warriors,' that's the ideal for us."

This novel stands as a testament to the importance of individual relationships and personal happiness in the process of creating larger change. But what kind of change? Fauset's final argument is a strong one for the Booker T. Washington approach. Those few characters who attempt to devote their lives to the cause wind up unhappy and alone; the kind of change the "Happy Warriors" described by Philip are meant to create is gradual, generational, relational--not political or adversarial.
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