The Freedom to Choose: The Aesthetics of Choice in Short Stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Amiri Baraka, and Toni Cade Bambara
University of Kansas
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Black Arts' writer Amiri Baraka observes in his essay "Northern Iowa: Short Story and Poetry," that "For black people, freedom is our aesthetic and our ideology." The focus on liberation has artistic and political resonance for African Americans. Freedom--as communal aesthetic and ideology--provides a useful starting point for better understanding major themes in black writing. A closer look at short stories, which have typically received less critical attention than novels in the study of African American literature, can yield valuable information about the diverse ways in which writers present varying degrees of what I am calling "freedom aesthetics" in their works. Overall, my project will examine the context of choice in selected African American short stories. To what ends do the works by Hurston, Wright, Bambara, and Baraka emphasize the "choices" African Americans make in the face of social barriers? Addressing this question will help to better explain how characters, within specific short stories, make specific decisions to gain higher degrees of social agency and what authorial judgments black writers use to create varied conceptions of freedom for diverse sets of black characters. The short stories selected in this study reflect struggles against constraints that are racially, socially, sexually, economically or politically motivated. These choices, I argue, help explain why those works have remained so well known and most frequently reprinted in anthologies that privilege freedom as a unifying theme.
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