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Faithful Vision

Treatments of the Sacred, Spiritual, and Supernatural in Twentieth-Century African American Fiction

James W. Coleman

Publication Year: 2006

“This is a marvelous and sustained discussion of ‘faithful vision’ and its significant influence on African American literature.”—American Literature In Faithful Vision, James W. Coleman places under his critical lens a wide array of African American novels written during the last half of the twentieth century. In doing so, he demonstrates that religious vision not only informs black literature but also serves as a foundation for black culture generally. The Judeo-Christian tradition, according to Coleman, is the primary component of the African American spiritual perspective, though its syncretism with voodoo/hoodoo—a religion transported from West Africa through the West Indies and New Orleans to the rest of black America—also figures largely. Reviewing novels written mainly since 1950 by writers including James Baldwin, Randall Kenan, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Erna Brodber, and Ishmael Reed, among others, Coleman explores how black authors have addressed the relevance of faith, especially as it relates to an oppressive Christian tradition. He shows that their novels—no matter how critical of the sacred or supernatural, or how skeptical the characters’ viewpoints—ultimately never reject the vision of faith. With its focus on religious experience and tradition and its wider discussion of history, philosophy, gender, and postmodernism, Faithful Vision brings a bold critical dimension to African American literary studies. “An insightful interrogation of the complexities of religious discourse in the African American literary tradition. Because it superbly translates complex spiritual ethos into literary tradition, this remarkable book is a must for anyone interested in intersections of the sacred and the secular in black cultural productions.”—Southern Literary Journal “Faithful Vision both looks intently into faith and shows us how to look.”—Christianity and Literature

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Literary Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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Introduction: Faithful Vision

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pp. 1-15

RELIGIOUS AND BIBLICAL TRADITIONS that engender faith are arguably the most important cultural feature to African Americans, and therefore also to African American writers who write about black culture. However, despite the large amount of recent theoretical and philosophical work that addresses religion, critics who write about black novels seldom deal with religious and biblical traditions in fiction. It is interesting, for example, how ...

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1 African American Faithful Belief: Imposing Social Determinism, Naturalism, and Modernism: Imposing Social Determinism, Naturalism, and Modernism

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pp. 16-42

AFTER THE LITERARY BREAKTHROUGHS of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison in the mid-twentieth century, African American writers were able to focus on black cultural traditions, such as the religious, from their individual artistic perspectives with fewer pressures from the literary mainstream in which Wright and Ellison had to establish themselves. In James Baldwin’s ...

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2 The Centrality of Religious Faith: Communal Acceptance, Textual Ambiguity, and Paradox

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pp. 43-76

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN (1953) and A Visitation of Spirits (1989) reveal the centrality of the Bible and the related African American religious tradition and at the same time significantly oppose them. The tradition of faithful vision based on the Bible is important to black people and an important influence on these narratives, no matter ...

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3 Critiquing Christian Belief: The Text as Prophecy of Different Ways of Seeing Salvation

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pp. 77-117

THE MAIN DIFFERENCE BETWEEN the works analyzed in the last chapter, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and A Visitation of Spirits (1989), and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) and John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing (1996) is that postmodern approaches subvert the Bible in Morrison’s text, and in Wideman’s (re)write the Bible’s oppression in the attempt to revise the larger oppressive Western narrative tradition. ...

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4 Rejecting God and Redefining Faith: Portrayals of Black Women’s Spirituality

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pp. 118-155

FROM THE STANDPOINT of its revision of African American cultural perspective and interrogation of the ethos as it relates to the spiritual and trans-secular, The Color Purple (1982) is more complex than it may initially appear to be. On the surface, it seems to be clearly different because it is a bolder and more revolutionary text than The Cattle Killing (1996) and Beloved (1987), the two rich, innovative postmodern texts covered in the last chapter. ...

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5 Reshaping and Radicalizing Faith: The Diasporic Vision and Practice of Hoodoo

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pp. 156-196

JAMAICAN-BORN NOVELIST ERNA Brodber brings together the larger sacred, spiritual, and supernatural tradition of the African diaspora and shows its relationship to the African American in her novel Louisiana (1994). In its portrayal of hoodoo, Louisiana reveals an important part of the religious tradition indigenous to the African and diasporic past that Western culture and many African Americans have rejected. ...

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Conclusion: Fiction, Life, and Faitful Vision: Final Thoughts on Its Overall Portrayal and Relevance

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pp. 197-204

RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND FAITHFULl vision are fundamental to black culture and black people, and are much more influenced by the African past and voodoo/hoodoo than most people are aware. Some African Americans born before the 1950s know that voodoo/hoodoo has had an influence, while many born later do not. Older black people may simultaneously think of ...


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pp. 205-232


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pp. 233-243


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pp. 245-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780807136560
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807135297

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies