Born in a Mighty Bad Land: The Violent Man in African American Folklore and Fiction

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The figure of the violent man in the African American imagination has a long history. He can be found in 19th-century bad man ballads like "Stagolee" and "John Hardy," as well as in the black convict recitations that influenced "gangsta" rap. "Born in a Mighty Bad Land" connects this figure with similar characters in African American fiction. Many writers—McKay and Hurston in the Harlem Renaissance; Wright, Baldwin, and Ellison in the ’40s and ’50s; Himes in the ’50s and ’60s—saw the "bad nigger" as an archetypal figure in the black imagination and psyche. "Blaxploitation" novels in the ’70s made him a virtually mythical character. More recently, Mosley, Wideman, and Morrison have presented him as ghetto philosopher and cultural adventurer. Behind the folklore and fiction, many theories have been proposed to explain the source of the bad man’s intra-racial violence. Jerry H. Bryant explores all of these elements in a wide-ranging and illuminating look at one of the most misunderstood figures in African American culture.

Indiana University Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253215789
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2003
  • Series: Blacks in the Diaspora Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Jerry H. Bryant is Emeritus Professor of English at California State University.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:
1. The Classic Badman and the Ballad
The Badman Boaster
The Faces of Stagolee
2. Postbellum Violence and Its Causes: "Displaced Rage" in a Preindustrial Culture
3. Between the Wars: The Genteel Novel, Counter Stereotypes, and Initial Probes
Religion, Romance, and Race
Paul Laurence Dunbar: Southern Innocence, Northern Sin
James Weldon Johnson: Murder in Ragtime
James D. Corrothers and The Black Cat Club
4. From the Genteel to the Primitive: The Twenties and Thirties
The "New Negro" Finds the Folk
Rudolph Fisher's Harlem Tour
Claude McKay's Home to Harlem
Arna Bontemps's "Don't-Care Folk"
Zora Neale Hurston: Country Men and Women
5. The Ghetto Bildungsroman: From the Forties to the Seventies
Richard Wright: Bigger Thomas and a New Consciousness
James Baldwin: Escaping from Violence
Ralph Ellison's Rinehart
The Ghetto Setting
The Nurturing Ghetto I (Mark Kennedy and Herbert Simmons)
The Nurturing Ghetto II: The Autobiographical Vision (Claude Brown)
The Struggle for Moral Character (Ronald Fair and George Cain)
The Code of the Street: The Bildungsroman World Updated
6. Toasts: Tales of the "Bad Nigger"
The Toast and Its Mysteries
Return to Stagolee
The Put-Down
The Fall
7. Chester Himes: Harlem Absurd
A Man of Anger
The Harlem Novels
The Badmen
Coffin Ed and Grave Digger
8. A "Toast" Novel: Pimps, Hoodlums and Hit Men
The Struggle Between the "Hip" and the "Lame"
The "Hip" Victorious
Anger Over White Racism
The Violent Style
The Fantasy of Sexual Dominance
Instinct, Justice, and the Allure of The Life
A Special Kind of Squalor, A Special Kind of Guilt
Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines
9. Walter Mosley and the Violent Men of Watts
Socrates Fortlow
Raymond "Mouse" Alexander
Easy Rawlins
10. Rap: Going Commercial
11. The Badman and the Storyteller: John Edgar Wideman's Homewood Trilogy
Brothers and Keepers: A Family Matter
Hiding Place: Looking for Manhood
Rot and Renewal
Sent for You Yesterday: The Skeins of History and the Sacrament of Storytelling
12. Toni Morrison: Ulysses, Badmen, and Archetypes: Abandoning Violence Outlaws
Laying the Foundation: The Bluest Eye and Sula
Into the Limelight: Song of Solomon and Tar Baby
Trilogy: Three Stages of the Badman Loving

Appendix: Analysis of Thirty Prototype Ballads

Indiana University Press

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