The Blacker the Berry

The Blacker the Berry

by Wallace Thurman
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The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman

One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, The Blacker the Berry...was the first novel to openly explore prejudice within the Black community. This pioneering novel found a way beyond the bondage of Blackness in American life to a new meaning in truth and beauty.
Emma Lou Brown's dark complexion is a source of sorrow and humiliation — not only to herself, but to her lighter-skinned family and friends and to the white community of Boise, Idaho, her home-town. As a young woman, Emma travels to New York's Harlem, hoping to find a safe haven in the Black Mecca of the 1920s. Wallace Thurman re-creates this legendary time and place in rich detail, describing Emma's visits to nightclubs and dance halls and house-rent parties, her sex life and her catastrophic love affairs, her dreams and her disillusions — and the momentous decision she makes in order to survive.
A lost classic of Black American literature, The Blacker the a compelling portrait of the destructive depth of racial bias in this country. A new introduction by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, author of The Sweeter the Juice, highlights the timelessness of the issues of race and skin color in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486461342
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/19/2008
Series: Dover Books on Literature and Drama Series
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 475,857
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Wallace Thurman is the author of Harlem, a play, and two other novels, Infants of the Spring and Interne. He died in 1934.

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Blacker the Berry 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My department at university was American Literature, and among the others Harlem Renaissance attracted me the most. I have read many books about color prejudice but this book is different; It focuses on the color prejudice within the black community. When you compare the main character of this book 'Emma Lou' with Zora Neale Hurston's 'Janie Crawford' ( from; Their Eyes Were Watching God), you will find Emma Lou so weak and miserable. Janie was a black woman too, but she did not choose to pity herself. But I think that Emma Lou's were more common than Janie's, at those time. Both of the books have different plces in Harlem Renaissance Literature. 'The Blacker The Berry', is a very successful novel not only for showing the color prejudice within black the Black community, but also for making people think about the nonsense of any kind of prejudice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Many readers have already given a synopsis of the book so I won't rehash it. But I thought the book was well written however, the ending was abrupt. The characters were very real and relatable. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
Wallace Thurman (1902 - 1934) died young. Like his novel's heroine, Emma Lou Morgan, he was very dark-skinned and did some growing up in Idaho and California. Also a polymath genius, Thurman published his best known work, THE BLACKER THE BERRY, in 1929. It is a fine story, but landed with a thud both among earliest readers and critics. It is about very black Emma Lou Morgan who at age 18 "fled" from her home in Boise, Idaho for Los Angeles. Her maternal family -- the Lightfoots -- intended Emma Lou to take a teaching degree and then move to the South and no longer embarrass her fair-skinned grandmother and mother. As her mulatto grandmother and mother reminded her: having the genes of a pure black father had ruined her life as soon as she was born. A black boy might make something of himself -- as pullman porter, pharmacist or even lawyer. But "...a black girl would never know anything but sorrow and disappointment" (Part One). And every page of the five parts of THE BLACKER THE BERRY proves that they were right. ***** Emma Lou makes no close friends at the University of Southern California. She is too black to be admitted to a Negro sorority. After three years she flees to legendary Harlem during the years of its literary and artistic "Renaissance." Surely someone in the multi-toned Negro community there will love and understand her, despite her hue. But no. She is bedded by useless "yaller" Negro men ashamed to be seen with Emma Lou in their own social circles. Men mainly mooch money from her. Her one great love is selfish, lazy, half-mulatto, half filipino Alva. Her "salvation" finally occurs when Emma Lou, by now a qualified but unhappy teacher in a Harlem school, ditches Alva and resolves to grow hard, selfish, economically independent, to become "somebody" on her own terms, and to stop being ashamed of being "too black." ***** Yes, THE BLACKER THE BERRY is a better than average story. But its story line seems intended as a preaching vehicle for analyzing and skewering American Negro racial prejudice. Even in Harlem, the whiter the Negro, the higher his or her social status. But there is hope for Emma Lou. Witness the quatrain: "A yaller gal rides in a limousine,/A brown-skin does the same;/ A black gal rides in a rickety Ford,/ But she gets there, yes, my Lord" (Part 4). ***** THE BLACKER THE BERRY shows an American Negro world ruled by the light-skinned. This is a world dominated by people 3/4 white, like Emma Lou's Southern maternal great-great grandparents. They had been given freedom by their white begetters, the Lightfoots. Thus grandmother Maria had been born free. Moved to Kansas and then Idaho, the Lightfoots prospered through their saloon. Maria Lightfoot reveled in the highest stratum of Negro Society, "the blue-vein circle, ... all of its members were fair-skinned enough for their blood to be seen pulsing purple through the veins of their wrists." The family motto was "Whiter and whiter every generation." In only two or three more generations, Lightfoot progeny, if only they married sensibly, would pass for white, would be white, and their problems would then be over. (Part 1) ***** The color schism within American Negro communities is what this novel is about. It can be very depressing. -OOO-
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Emma Lou Brown is a tragic character, the product of what abuse can do to someone. Her story displays the pain of intra-racism on paper. She was so abused by her family and peers for being dark that she turned around and became abusive to other darkskinned Blacks. This is actually a common response by many darkskinned Blacks who suffer color discrimination. Modern day examples, include many rappers and darkskinned male actors who rap about or talk about why they don't like Black women and then go out and marry non-Black and extremely fair Black women, so as to "whitewash" the perceived filth of their dark Black skin. Sometimes, as this story proves, the worst discrimination comes from people who are the same race and/or color as you. Emma's attempt to mate with a lighterskinned man is a predictable response to the years of abuse, oppression, rejection and teasing she suffered from those whom she should have been able to call "her own." And his knowledge of her self-loathing made his ability to abuse her that much better. Black people dislike this topic getting mainstream attention, because many feel it takes away from the attention given to traditional racism. However, we cannot pretend like this form of racism has not injured our people equally, if not more brutally than traditional racism. Things like the paper bag test, the comb test and other acts throughout history in which lightskinned and darkskinned Blacks separated themselves by color (and usually also class) is not something that we can pretend did not happen (and still happens in some circumstances to this day). Many Blacks who did this felt justified because of the depth of racism, and the lack of opportunities for Blacks of any color. Emma's family shows this in the book, which is why they adopt the "whiter and whiter each generation" mentality. That mentality was very deliberate. My great-great grandmother was able to attend a prominent White college because she could pass for White, as did my great grandparents on two sides. Other relatives attended HBCU's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and were able to advance in life. However, they did not wish to continue this "whiter and lighter" and some opted to marry Blacks of darker complexions. Today, my family is a beautiful blend of complexions, and this is something we celebrate. But even in this day and age, I meet far too many Blacks who still make ignorant comments about themselves and other Blacks based on complexion and color. And to think, often those are the first Blacks who will call a White person racist. The hypocrisy can be excruciating to deal with at times.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The Blacker the Berry was a terrific book. The main character angered me. It is awful to be prejudice against people of your own color. Emma Lou thought that she was better than others when she was just the opposite. She didn't seem to be able to face the truth which was bad for a black person in the renaisssance period. She allowed guys to use her. Well, I take that back. In some instances, she acted as if she didn't know she was being used. She seemed to finally see reality at the end.