What to do:
Read chapter 11 in Critical Theory Today.
Below are a series of questions taken from your textbook that an African American critic might ask about a text. In a response of at least 300 words to one of these questions, post a comment about one of the novels.
The following questions are offered to summarize African American approaches
to literature. Keep in mind that, like feminist, lesbian/gay/queer, postcolonial, or
any criticism that analyzes the writing of a specific group of historically oppressed
people, African American criticism is both a subject matter—the study of a
body of literature written by a specific group of marginalized people—and a the‑
oretical framework. As a subject matter, any analysis of a literary work written
by an African American, regardless of the theoretical framework used, might
be called African American criticism, even if no attention is paid to elements
in the text that are specifically African American. However, as a theoretical
framework—and this is our primary concern here—African American criticism
foregrounds race (racial identity, African American cultural traditions, psychol‑
ogy, politics, and so forth) as the object of analysis because race, in America,
informs our individual and cultural psychology, and therefore our literature, in
profound ways. As a theoretical framework, then, African American criticism
can be used to analyze any literary text that speaks to any racial issues, particularly those of oppressed minority groups, regardless of the race of its author, although the work of African American writers is the primary focus.
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1. What can the work teach us about the specifics of African heritage, Afri‑
can American culture and experience, and/or African American history
(including but not limited to the history of marginalization)?
2. What are the racial politics (ideological agendas related to racial oppres‑
sion or liberation) of specific African American works? For example, does
the work correct stereotypes of African Americans; correct historical
misrepresentations of African Americans; celebrate African American
culture, experience, and achievement; or explore racial issues, including,
among others, the economic, social, or psychological effects of racism? Or
as can be seen in the literary production of many white authors, does the
work reinforce racist ideologies?
3. What are the poetics (literary devices and strategies) of specific African
American works? For example, does the work use black vernacular or stan‑
dard white English? Does the work draw on African myths or African
American folktales or folk motifs? Does the work provide imagery that
resonates with African American women’s domestic space, African Amer‑
ican cultural practices, history, or heritage? What are the effects of these
literary devices and how do they relate to the theme, or meaning, of the
4. How does the work participate in the African American literary tradi‑
tion? To what group of African American texts might we say it belongs in
terms of its politics and poetics? How does it conform to those texts?
5. How does the work illustrate interest convergences, the social construction
of race, white privilege, or any other concept from critical race theory? How
can an understanding of these concepts deepen our interpretation of the
6. How is an Africanist presence—black characters, stories about black peo‑
ple, representations of black speech, images associated with Africa or with
blackness—used in works by white writers to construct positive portrayals
of white characters?