Gloria Naylor

Linden Hills

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  • Features 7 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Linden Hills Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 40-page guide for “Linden Hills” by Gloria Naylor includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 7 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The American Dream and Racism, Racial Stereotypes, and Identity.

Plot Summary

Gloria Naylor published Linden Hills in 1985, three years after the publication of her debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place. While Naylor’s debut novel focuses on women living in an impoverished housing development, Linden Hills examines an affluent black community through the eyes of two young men: Lester, a Linden Hills resident, and Willie, an outsider living on Wayne Avenue.

The Linden Hills neighborhood is the “place to be” (260) in Wayne County, with its “imitation Swiss chalets, British Tudors, and Georgian town houses flanked by arbors choked with morning glories” (10). The ultimate prize is a house on Tupelo Drive. However, “only ‘certain’ people got to live in Linden Hills,” and no one seems to notice that despite the multitude of applicants aspiring to live in Linden Hills, there are always vacant houses in the neighborhood (15). Linden Hills is overseen—and ruled—by the Nedeed family, and has been for generations. Luther Nedeed is currently responsible for choosing who lives in Linden Hills, and he knows that something has gone terribly wrong with his ancestor’s dream. Despite their wealth, status, and success, the residents of Linden Hills have “plastic postures” (162) and a “bright nothing” inside them (17).

“Up means down” in Linden Hills: As residents aspire to move up in the neighborhood’s hierarchy to be closer to Tupelo Drive and the Nedeed family mansion, they are literally moving down the hill (39). This descent is not only geographic but also metaphoric. Naylor wrote Linden Hills as a modern take on Dante’s Inferno. In Inferno, Dante, accompanied by Virgil, must descend through the nine concentric rings of hell to reach the devil at the very center. With Virgil’s help, Dante will pass through hell unscathed and be able to ascend upward. Similarly, Willie and Lester descend through the eight driveways that make up the Linden Hills neighborhood as they search for work, ultimately reaching the Nedeed mansion at the very base of the hill in the final chapter.

In the course of their descent, Willie and Lester meet several Linden Hills residents—whose plights correspond to one of the concentric rings of hell—and witness how the hunt for success and status has debased and degraded their character. In Linden Hills, the pursuit of the American dream, configured as the pursuit of a Tupelo Drive address, parallels the descent into hell. The two friends meet Winston Alcott, who has thrown away love for fear that homophobia will prevent his rise through the Linden Hills neighborhood; Xavier Donnell and Maxwell Smyth, who both deny their racial identity in a bid to achieve professional success; Reverend Michael Hollis, who fills the absence of any spiritual fervor in his congregation with alcohol; Laurel Dumont, whose purposeless life drives her to suicide; and Daniel Braithwaite, a historian who believes that no single person can change the course of a collective history and so we shouldn’t try.

As Willie and Lester descend through Linden Hills, Luther Nedeed imprisons his wife and son in his basement, mistakenly believing that his wife has committed adultery. This cruel and vicious treatment illustrates the dark and rotten center of this glittering neighborhood, which burns to the ground in the novel’s final scene when Willie accidentally frees Willa Nedeed from her basement prison.

While exploring issues of class and hierarchy, racism and racial identity, misogyny and the oppression of women, Linden Hills is also a story of psychological and moral growth—or a bildungsroman—as Willie and Lester, still young men, witness the neighborhood’s wealth, prosperity, and depravity and, without falling for its temptations, can ascend together “hand anchored to hand” (304).

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Chapters 1-3