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Posted on March 14th, 2013, by

The development of the Black Arts movement was closely intertwined with the change in the attitude of the US society to minorities, namely African Americans under the impact of the Civil Rights Movement. At the same time, it is important to distinguish African American artists, who worked in the time of the rise and development of the Civil Rights movement till the mid-1970s and African American artists who has worked since the mid-1970s, when the Civil Rights movement faced a considerable downturn, whereas the attitude of the society to minorities has already changed. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that African American art mirrored consistent changes that occurred not only within African American community but also within the US society. During the Black Arts movement era African American authors such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and Martin Luther King Jr. style of writing was more from a place of urgency to get the information out from what they were experiencing at that very moment and the affects it was having on them mentally spiritually and emotionally. Literature since 1975 took a different turn when African American Authors were actually creating fictional characters to what they believed took place back when slavery was going on etc, one example is Alice Walker and her fictional characters in what she felt took place in the 1960’s along with Sherley Ann Williams Tell Martha Not to Moan.

In fact, African American artists before 1975 and since 1975 are quite different because they had different social experience. For instance, Martin Luther King or Sonia Sanchez and her poetry are quite different from later literary works created by African American authors because they had different experience. What is meant here is the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. and Sonia Sanchez have suffered the discrimination and racial oppression. They knew what racial inequality actually is and how it feels to be inferior to the whites, to be treated as a mere commodity being deprived of human dignity. At this point, it is possible to refer to the famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream, where he presents his vision of the ideal American society, which is free of racial discrimination and inequality, and where all people have equal rights and liberties and comprise one nation, regardless of their racial background. He presented his vision of the future society on the ground of his personal experience of inequality and injustice he has witnessed since his childhood.

He considered plausible methods of struggle against the existing injustice and he arrived to the conclusion that social disobedience is the most effective method of struggle: “academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience”¯ (King, 23). His speeches are full of claims to disobedience to overthrow oppression and discrimination. For instance, he argued that “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro”¯ (King, 24). He insisted that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed”¯ (King, 21). All these claims were grounded on the actual experience of the author and mirrored his personal vision as it was shaped under the impact of the real life.

Also, it is worth mentioning works created by Sonia Sanchez, who also conveyed her personal experience in her poems. She paid a lot of attention to the problem of the discrimination and racial inequality in the US. She conveyed her personal experience and her views on the problem of racial inequality. In this regard, Sonia Sanchez did not create absolutely fiction characters or images. Instead, she focuses on her personal experience, which she conveys clearly throughout her poems.

However, the authors after 1975 have developed quite a different approach to art because they used factious stories and plots to convey their vision of racial problems and problems that affected the African American community. In this respect, it is possible to refer to Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. Alice Walker’s Everyday Use focuses on the theme of heritage and different interpretation of heritage by different generations. In fact, the author contrasts two different views on heritage. On the one hand, there is a mother’s, narrator’s view on heritage as a memory of old traditions and lifestyle of ancestors, while, on the other hand, there is a daughter’s, Dee’s view on heritage, according to which heritage is just old-fashioned, out-of-date things which are meaningless and useless. In this regard, the conflict over hand-made quilts, which symbolize the heritage, and its resolution reveals and reinforces the story’s theme, stressing the striking difference between generations in their views on heritage and the importance of heritage in the everyday life of people.

In actuality, the author stands on the ground that heritage is of the utmost importance because it mirrors the historical and cultural experience of ancestors, the experience which was transmitted from one generation to another. In such a context, such things as quilts are symbols of heritage and it is through the attitude to these things the true attitude of an individual to his or her heritage, ancestors and past of his or her family is revealed. At the same time, the author stresses that people should never forget about their heritage and they should respect it as the narrator of the story does.

On the other hand, the author reveals the fact that, in the contemporary world, the concept of heritage and the attitude to heritage have changed dramatically. Dee, the daughter of the narrator, does not respect her heritage and she does not understand what heritage actually means. She associates heritage with old things, like quilts, which are simply stored without any specific purpose. Thus, heritage becomes a kind of trash for her. It is obvious that she would easily throw away the old things because they are out of date, but it is these old things that are the heritage of her family. She cannot understand the significance of this heritage. When she re-discovers quilts, she finds that quilts are just “scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And teeny faded blue piece”¦ that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform he wore in the Civil War”¯ (Walker, 498). Hence, her attitude to quilts is negligent, she scorns them because they are old fashioned and out-of-date.

In stark contrast, her mother is conscious of the significance of quilts as a symbol of heritage of her family. She associates quilts with the lifestyle of her ancestors and with the history of her family. She does not view quilts as a mere commodity or an old-fashioned thing. Instead, she highly appreciates quilts and she is almost worshiping quilts as a symbol of heritage. No wonder, she is unwilling to give quilts to her daughter because Dee does not share her views on heritage and symbolic meaning of quilts. Nevertheless, when Mrs. Johnson decides to give quilts to Maggie, Dee states: “You don’t understand”¦ Your heritage!”¯ (Walker, 491).

In such a way, the author reveals the full difference in views of the mother and the daughter on heritage. Their views are totally different and they can hardly close the gap in their attitude to heritage. Obviously, Dee will never understand the significance of quilts as essential elements of her family’s heritage, while the mother will not be able to understand the attitude of her daughter to her heritage. In such a way, the mother cannot accept the materialistic, consumerist attitude of her daughter to her heritage. The narrator does not accept the modern trend to consumerist when the value of things is defined not by their cultural significance, but by their “trendiness”¯. In fact, the author warns that such attitude to symbols of heritage and to heritage itself can lead to conflicts between generations. However, what is even more important, Alice Walker argues that such attitude to heritage is unacceptable, while the emerging consumerism is a threat to cultural traditions and values of the western civilization at large. Therefore, the conflict over quilts and its resolution do not simply reveal the controversy between the mother and the daughter but it also warns readers against the neglect to traditions of ancestors and their lifestyle. The author stresses the importance of heritage and appeals to the audience to reconsider the attitude to heritage.

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