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Beetlecreek

Publication Year: 1998

After several years of silence and seclusion in Beetlecreek's black quarter, a carnival worker named Bill Trapp befriends Johnny Johnson, a Pittsburgh teenager living with relatives in Beetlecreek. Bill is white. Johnny is black. Both are searching for acceptance, something that will give meaning to their lives. Bill tries to find it through good will in the community. Johnny finds it in the Nightriders, a local gang. David Diggs, the boy's dispirited uncle, aspires to be an artist but has to settle for sign painting. David and Johnny's new friendship with Bill kindles hope that their lives will get better. David's marriage has failed; his wife's shallow faith serves as her outlet from racial and financial oppression. David's unhappy routine is broken by Edith Johnson's return to Beetlecreek, but this relationship will be no better than his loveless marriage. Bill's attempts to unify black and white children with a community picnic is a disaster. A rumor scapegoats him as a child molester, and Beetlecreek is titillated by the imagined crimes. This novel portraying race relations in a remote West Virginia town has been termed an existential classic. It would be hard, said The New Yorker, to give Mr. Demby too much praise for the skill with which he has maneuvered the relationships in this book. During the 1960s Arna Bontemps wrote, "Demby's troubled townsfolk of the West Virginia mining region foreshadow present dilemmas. The pressing and resisting social forces in this season of our discontent and the fatal paralysis of those of us unable or unwilling to act are clearly anticipated with the dependable second sight of a true artist." First published in 1950, Beetlecreek stands as a moving condemnation of provincialism and fundamentalism. Both a critique of racial hypocrisy and a new direction for the African-American novel, it occupies fresh territory that is neither the ghetto realism of Richard Wright nor the ironic modernism of Ralph Ellison. Even after fifty years, more or less, William Demby said in 1998, "It still seems to me that Beetlecreek is about the absence of symmetry in human affairs, the imperfectibility of justice the tragic inevitability of mankind's inhumanity to mankind." William Demby is the author of The Catacombs and Love Story: Black. He lives in Sag Harbor, N. Y. James C. Hall, a professor of African-American Studies and English at the University of Illinois, Chicago, is the author of the forthcoming book, Mercy, Mercy, Me: African-American Culture and the American Sixties, and editor of Langston Hughes: A Collection of Poems.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title page, Copyright

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PART ONE: CHAPTER ONE

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pp. 7-13

Always when he looked in the mirror his eyes were different. Sometimes they peered from out of the broken glass asking an unanswerable question, sometimes they were angry...

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CHAPTER TWO

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pp. 14-21

JOHNNY JOHNSON, completely undressed except for his underwear, lay across the bed. A Doctor Zorro and the Dope Smugglers lay unopened across his stomach. He had wanted to go outside where he knew the boys were waiting to hear what...

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CHAPTER THREE

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pp. 22-23

THOUGH OUTDOORS it was wet cold, her window was wide open. The curtain reached inward toward the bed where Mary was crouched under the blankets warming her hands between her thighs. She no longer was frightened. Her whole...

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PART TWO: CHAPTER ONE

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pp. 25-37

A BRISK COLD wind blew down the street from the creek chasing leaves and candy wrappers before it. Frantic birds flocked above and behind the wind, riding the violent currents, screaming, overloading trees. A fat tomcat, sooty...

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CHAPTER TWO

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pp. 38-46

THEY pretended they didn't see him when he walked over to the railing of the bridge. They were standing slouched and posed with their hands in their pockets, smoking in rotation a short, wet cigarette butt...

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CHAPTER THREE

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pp. 47-60

Now the days were long; time moved slowly for Bill Trapp. Every morning found him up and about long before dawn. He was restless and spent his time doing unnecessary things; he mended traps and pruned trees, working always near...

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CHAPTER FOUR

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pp. 61-66

STILL wearing the red, gold, and green fringed apron she had put on to serve Mrs. Pinkerton's Literary Club, Mary ran to the back door to answer the insistent knocking. It was Helen Perkins whose face was blown way up with heavy...

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CHAPTER FIVE

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pp. 67-79

FOR three days after what happened at the shanty, Johnny wouldn't leave the house. He told his aunt and uncle that he was sick and stayed locked up in his room, throwing himself across the bed every time he heard them coming up the steps. On the table beside his bed was a Bible which from time to...

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PART THREE: CHAPTER ONE

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pp. 81-91

WHEN Edith Johnson entered Telrico's that night, everyone stopped talking to turn around and watch. The way she walked was big city--slowly, dragging the hind foot a little, swinging the hips gently, holding onto her purse with...

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CHAPTER TWO

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pp. 92-100

The funeral was over and David stood with his back to the gay whispering. They still hadn't brought the casket out and people had already lined the walk waiting for the procession. Mary had wanted him to volunteer as a pallbearer...

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CHAPTER THREE

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pp. 101-115

He found Bill Trapp seated under a tree repairing a wheelbarrow. It was the first time David had seen him since the night at Telrico's. Already, entering the gate, he felt freed from the cloudy fears that had choked him inside the church...

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CHAPTER FOUR

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pp. 116-131

EVER since the funeral, Johnny had felt restless and look-for- something. It was a continuation of the way he had felt when he was on the bus coming to Beetlecreek for the first time. It was a very strange feeling--a kind of stuffed up...

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CHAPTER FIVE

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pp. 132-146

ALL DURING the meal, Mary was so excited that she could hardly swallow her food. David had finally painted the signs and they were safe in her bedroom where she had placed them beside the dresser earlier in the afternoon. She had made...

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CHAPTER SIX

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pp. 147-156

THE SHALLOW, mud water of the Beetle Creek, the ever-sogently creaking swinging bridge, and the mainline railroad tracks, all separated Beetlecreek from uptown. The creek curled around itself to make almost an island of Beetlecreek....

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CHAPTER SEVEN

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pp. 157-169

JOHNNY sat on the railing of the swinging bridge looking down toward the creek. He leaned over and spit, watching the curved path the white blob took before hitting the water. The cold wind pushed the bridge back and forth, back and...

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CHAPTER EIGHT

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pp. 170-174

BILL TRAPP was a man who was dead, had brought himself back to life again, who once more longed for the known groove of death. These thoughts in different shapes came to him as slowly he walked through an alley on his way back...

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CHAPTER NINE

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pp. 175-186

NOR DID David know what to make of the talk about Bill Trapp. Somehow, he couldn't get himself into a frame of mind to think about the thing clearly. Of course he didn't believe what they were saying. Yet, the whole...

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PART FOUR: CHAPTER ONE

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pp. 187-203

ALL UP and down the street, there was an awareness of the festival. For that early evening hour, there were more people than usual crossing back and forth across the swinging bridge. Ladies, coming back to the village...

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CHAPTER TWO

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pp. 204-215

THERE were many moths about, all of them fuzzy and made of gray-brown powder. In and out of the shadows they flitted, between lanterns and under the booths, appearing momentarily in patches of light, casting bat shadows on the...

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CHAPTER THREE

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pp. 216-224

ONLY a handful of people were waiting for the eleven-fifteen northbound to arrive from Munstor. Most of them were hillbillies riding as far as Tulip where they would take the shuttle bus to National Park. David thought they looked...

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Afterword

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pp. 225-235

While much critical attention has been directed towards the outpouring of African American creativity in the 1920s and 1960s, the Harlem Renaissance and Black Aesthetic Movement respectively, a...

REFERENCES

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pp. 236-


E-ISBN-13: 9781617030864
E-ISBN-10: 1617030864
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578061068
Print-ISBN-10: 1578061067

Publication Year: 1998

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