The Presence and Function of Folklore in the Fiction of Arna Bontemps
Tracy Lynne Austin
William E. Cross
Thesis DT 3.5 1983 A938
v, 105 leaves; 28 cm.
Afro-American literature derives much of its distinctiveness and strength from its traditional heritage. Because that heritage represents the ideals and values of Afro-American folk, its presence in the literature represents a link between the people and the art. Afro-American literature, then, is to be seen as an organic and cultural phenomenon; one which is nurtured by the culture of the folk.
Since Afro-American literature derives its life-blood from the traditional folk culture, it is important to acknowledge and understand the role of tradition in literature. Examinations of folklore, as a body of traditional culture, in literature are useful in this regard, for they provide valuable information about the relationship between tradition and literature. The very presence of folkloric elements in literature may be used to document the organic nature of Afro-American literature. An analysis of the functions of folklore in literature could reveal much about the aesthetic possibilities for the conscious used of tradition in the literary process.
The example of the novels of Arna Bontemps is meant to serve in the further documentation of the traditional basis of Afro-American literature, as well as to illustrate the aesthetic dimensions of tradition in art.
This study of the use of folklore in Bontemps' fiction involves an overview of the prevailing view on folklore in literature by Black literary critics and scholars, a thorough descriptive analysis of the folklore present in Bontemps' fiction, and an overall assessment of how the folklore informs structure and content in Bontemps' novels.
The study concludes that folklore is used extensively throughout Bontemps' fiction. Moreover, the folkloric elements are shown to have fulfilled important literary functions involving thematic development, characterization, and narrative structure in the novels.
There is also a more far-reaching conclusion to be drawn from the example of Arna Bontemps' fiction. This has to do with a realization of the fact that folkore, as an embodiment of cultural tradition, can be purposefully applied to the self-conscious literary process to the advantage of the form and content of the literature.