James Calvin's Reviews > The Homesteader: A Novel

The Homesteader by Oscar Micheaux
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Micheaux's The Homesteader is not, by any means, a great novel; but it's a fascinating read. Micheaux was a pioneering novelist and film-maker in the early 20th century, a man who, like The Homesteader's similarly French-named, African-American protagonist, Jean Baptiste, worked tirelessly to achieve missions that might well have seemed impossible, especially for a Black man, in his time.

Baptiste is convinced that there was life to be found in Dakota homesteading land at the turn of the century, so he works ground on the far edge of land available, and succeeds, big-time, in proving up his claim, gaining significant wealth in the process and no end of admiration from his white neighbors. The woman he can't help himself from loving is white, however, so his loneliness requires a pilgrimage or two back to Chicago to find a Black wife. Much of the novel is set there, in fact; only sparingly does Baptiste work the land back home.

He is, sadly enough, quite unsuccessful with women, even though he is dutiful and loving toward Orlean, the woman who finally consents to become his wife. Darkness arrives in a haughty hypocrite preacher, the girl's father, whose gargantuan psychological authority is something Orlean simply can't escape.

Meanwhile, the homestead is drying up in a series of bad, bad years. Oddly enough, Baptiste turns to writing, even though he'd never read a novel. His first effort gets him nothing but rejection, so, characteristically, he simply becomes his own publisher and does well enough to keep the ranch.

In spirit and initiative Baptiste is no loser. By sheer determination and industry, he wins in every way; and in the end, love wins out.

The novel is, without a doubt, about race. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God raises far different questions, but The Homesteader offers just as interesting a commentary about race in the early years of the century.

It's clunky, more than a bit moralistic, and smilingly contrived. But Micheaux himself is a fascinating figure, a man who, like Baptiste, homesteaded in South Dakota, wrote and sold novels no one wanted, then, of all things, started making films in a time when segregation was as tightly enforced in art as it was in education.

In every way he was a pioneer. The Homesteader is not a great novel, but Oscar Micheaux, an African-American homesteader, novelist, and film-maker, was--and still is--a remarkable American story.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
May 19, 2014 – Finished Reading
May 22, 2014 – Shelved

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