In this illuminating book Roger Rosenblatt offers both sensitive analyses of individual works and a provocative and compelling thesis. He argues that black fiction has a unity deriving not from any chronological sequence, or simply from its black authorship, but from a particular cyclical conception of history on which practically every significant black American novel and short story is based. Marked for oppression by an external physical characteristic, black characters struggle constantly against and within a hostile world.
Rosenblatt’s analysis of the way black protagonists try to break historical patterns provides an integrated and sustained interpretation of motives and methods in black fiction. The black hero, after starting on a circular track, may try to change direction by means of his youth, love, education, or humor; or he may try to escape into his own elusive and vague history. But, as Rosenblatt demonstrates, these attempts all fail. And the black hero discovers in the failure of his attempts that the society which caused all this failure is not only unattainable but undesirable. Neither a sociological study nor a routine survey, this is distinctly a work of literary criticism which concentrates on black fiction as literature.