The impact of absent fathers on sons in the black community has been a subject for cultural critics and sociologists who often deal in anonymous data. Yet many of those sons have themselves addressed the issue in autobiographical works that form the core of African American literature.
A Fatherless Child examines the impact of fatherlessness on racial and gender identity formation as seen in black men's autobiographies and in other constructions of black fatherhood in fiction. Through these works, Tara T. Green investigates what comes of abandonment by a father and loss of a role model by probing a son's understanding of his father's struggles to define himself and the role of community in forming the son's quest for self-definition in his father's absence.
Closely examining four works — Langston Hughes's The Big Sea, Richard Wright's Black Boy, Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father — Green portrays the intersecting experiences of generations of black men during the twentieth century both before and after the Civil Rights movement. These four men recall feeling the pressure and responsibility of caring for their mothers, resisting public displays of care, and desiring a loving, noncontentious relationship with their fathers. Feeling vulnerable to forces they may have identified as detrimental to their status as black men, they use autobiography as a tool for healing, a way to confront that vulnerability and to claim a lost power associated with their lost fathers.
Through her analysis, Green emphasizes the role of community as a father-substitute in producing successful black men, the impact of fatherlessness on self-perceptions and relationships with women, and black men's engagement with healing the pain of abandonment. She also looks at why these four men visited Africa to reclaim a cultural history and identity, showing how each developed a clearer understanding of himself as an American man of African descent.
A Fatherless Child conveys important lessons relevant to current debates regarding the status of African American families in the twenty-first century. By showing us four black men of different eras, Green asks readers to consider how much any child can heal from fatherlessness to construct a positive self-image—and shows that, contrary to popular perceptions, fatherlessness need not lead to certain failure.
Tara T. Green — Tara T. Green is Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where she is also Director of the African American Studies Program. She is also editor of From the Plantation to the Prison: African American Confinement Literature
Green, Tara T. A fatherless child: autobiographical perspectives on African American men. Missouri, 2009. 172p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780826218216. Reviewed in 2009aug CHOICE.
In an attempt to understand the influence of male abandonment as portrayed in African American fiction by male writers, Green (African American studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro) dissects a number of 20th-century autobiographies by African American males who were abandoned by their fathers. The author crosses generational lines as she discusses Langston Hughes and Richard Wright as representing the Harlem Renaissance; Malcolm X, the civil rights era; and Barack Obama, the contemporary world. In exploring these men's journeys in search of self-identity, community belonging, and African connections, she contrasts Richard Wright's psychological quest for a resolution between personal identity and a place where he belonged with Hughes's, Malcolm X's, and Obama's more concrete mobilizations as they sought community. Appealing to a variety of areas of study--African American cultural identity, history, sociology, political science, and literature--Green admittedly engages in a dialogue with Keith Clark, author of Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson (CH, Dec'02, 40-2015).
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. -- T. L. Stowell, Adrian College