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Virginia Hamilton's Symbolic Presentation of the Afro-American Sensibility by David L Russell Virginia Hamilton Is most vexing when, in the midst of meticulously-detailed realistic description, she introduces elements which sorely try her readers' credulity. Take, for instance, the marvelous solar system created by Mr. Pool for Junior Brown in a forgotten basement room of the school, or the Intrusion of the ghost of Brother Rush into Tree's otherwise uneventful life. Not all critics gradously accept these fanciful turns of plot. David Rees, for one, complains of the ghost's presence in Sweet Whispers. Brother Rush: "The use of the supernatural seems like a cheap short cut to give Tree knowledge: the author should have found a more convindng way of imparting information . . ." (182). On the other hand, Rees applauds M. C. Hlogins. the Great (176), even though that woik contains material nearly as fanciful. Paul Heins has remarked that Hamilton herself "is not sure whether she is a realst; actually, she often feels that she is a symbolist. One might call her an Inventor" (347). Hamilton has, perhaps, invented her own kind of fiction, which is especially suited to her penetration of the Afro-American character and to her exploration of the Afro-American experience. Hamilton's books are-as is so much of adolescent fictionstories of survival, of people learning to get along in the world. Her fiction is not so much a vehide of social protest, as is that of so many black writers, but rather it Is the impassioned portrayal of individuals in the process of getting along ki the world. Through her use of symbolism, this process unfolds as an almost mythic enactment of the Afro-American wHI and means for survival. In M. C. Higgins. the Great (1974), Hamilton effectively created a symbolic presentation of her concept of the Afro-American sensibility, in which survival is achieved through the hero's coming to terms with two fundamental precepts: realizing the importance of his cultural heritage, which informs him that he has something worth preserving; and understanding the importance of the sense of community, which assures him that his plight is not a singular one and success depends upon individuals striving together. Through these two precepts, the hero acknowledges the will to survive, imparted by the past and the means to survive provided by the communal spirit of the present. He thus becomes capable of initiating positive action and inspiring others to join him ki that action to face the future. In Hamilton's vision of the Afro-American sensibility, the hero is ennobled through acknowledging his past and through accepting the communal spirit (significantly not through undertaking an Individual heroic effort). Consequently, human existence is given meaning finely by dedsive and deliberate action. To find the sources of this vision, we may benefit from what Janice E. Hale has said of African culture: "Two guiding prindples characterize the African ethos: survival of the tribes and the oneness of being. A deep sense of family or kinship characterizes African social reality" (48). Hamilton's characters typically find their identity to be inextricably tied to that of their family. The African tradition is ki sharp contrast to Western culture which has generally elevated individualism over the bonds of family. The Afro-American emphasis on these ties was certainly fostered by the more recent historical experience of slavery, which frequently deprived blacks of any meaningful family structure, making family perhaps more fervently craved ki the Afro-American cultural tradition. By extension, as the family heritage is crucial, so is the tribal heritage, or one's roots ki general. Among the most important steps a social group must take to establish its Identity is the celebration of its history, the glorification of its origins. For the Individual, this means grasping an understanding of the motivations and desires of one's ancestors. In a similar vein, the sense of community is frequently stronger ki the black culture than ki the white. This may result from a natural tendency for members of an oppressed or minority group to bind together, as wel as from the African sense of "oneness of being" which denies the extremes of Western...


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pp. 71-74
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