The raceless novel of the 1930s : African-American fiction by Arna Bontemps, George Henderson, Countee Cullen, Jessie Fauset, and Zora Neale Hurston.

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Rummage, Ronald
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Middle Tennessee State University
In the 1930s, five African-American novelists produced fiction which de-emphasized racial problems and opted instead for a dispassionate rendering of black life. These writers, perhaps influenced by economic conditions during the Depression, by their own middle-class backgrounds, or by their knowledge of African-American folklore, shunned the predictable racial themes and situations already overused by previous black writers.
The study begins with a survey of African-American fiction before 1930, especially examining James Weldon Johnson's The Autobioqraphy of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912) as a predecessor of the raceless novel of the 1930s. The criteria for determining the degree of racelessness in the novels are the apparent freedom of the characters from significant white oppression, the relative absence of propaganda dealing with racial issues, the attitudes of particular novelists toward raceless novels, and the critics' responses to the novels and writers.
Chapter 2 explores two raceless novels that focus primarily on the lower class. Arna Bontemps's God Sends Sunday (1931) deals with the rise and fall of Lil Augie, a jockey. Likewise, George Wylie Henderson covers the life of the sharecropper Ollie Miss in his novel of the same name (1935).
The middle class serves as the focus of the raceless novels analyzed in Chapter 3. Countee Cullen's One Way to Heaven (1932) and Jessie Fauset's The Chinaberry Tree (1931) examine the wealth, education, and social standing of the black residents in Harlem and in Red Brook, New Jersey.
Chapter 4 explores the philosophy and writings of Zora Neale Hurston, whose Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) illustrate her training as a folklorist and her strong desire to avoid writing about racial issues.
The study concludes with an analysis of the decline of the raceless novel in the 1940s due to the changing times and the effect on African-American fiction of Richard Wright's militant Native Son and of the work of his followers, the Wright School, who carried on his passion for protest fiction.