Black No More Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 42-page guide for “Black No More” by George Schuyler includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 13 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 Mutability of Human Nature and Hypocrisy, Greed, and Other Human Frailties.
George S. Schuyler’s novel, Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D. 1933-1940, is a satirical novel first published in 1931 by the Macaulay Company. The novel was reissued in 2015 by Martino Publishing, based in Mansfield Centre, Connecticut. Some contemporary scholars categorize this work retrospectively as one of the earliest pieces of literary Afrofuturism, a kind of science fiction unique to writers of African-American origin. This cultural and artistic movement was not labeled as such until 1993, but Schuyler’s novel and its fantastical premise certainly explores themes that are specific to black culture and experience.
George Schuyler was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1895, and his career as a journalist, author, and social commentator lasted most of his adult life; he published his autobiography in 1966, nine years before his death in New York City. Schuyler took part in the artistic and literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, but his role was primarily one of contrarian. When Alain Locke proposed a notion of African-American art, Schuyler responded with an article titled “The Negro Art Hokum,” which was published in The Nation in 1926. In this article, Schuyler argues that a distinctly African-American body of artwork is simply American art, not African-American; a rebuttal from Langston Hughes soon appeared in The Nation later that same year, encouraging African-American artists to persist in making their works distinct from the rest of American art, which was typically by white artists.
Though Schuyler’s political leanings shifted dramatically as his life progressed, he is remembered for his relentless pursuit of intellectual independence. During the Second World War, he fearlessly pointed out some difficult truths to Americans. For example, he resisted the claims of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Americans in the war were fighting for freedom; he pointed out that Adolf Hitler had been an admirer of the racist policies that existed in America’s Deep South and that he had modeled the Nazi Party around racial theories first upheld by Americans, so freedom had little to do with American involvement in the war. Schuyler also found much to criticize in the thoughts, actions, and influence of black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, choosing to live, and to write, by less popular, more conservative ideals. In this way, Schuyler believed, he was living according to a principle of race loyalty of his own making.
At the start of the novel, the protagonist, Max Disher, stands outside a cabaret in New York City, ruminating on a recent break-up. It is New Year’s Eve in 1933, and he has a party to attend, but only when his friend, Bunny Brown, appears does he feel in a festive mood. At the party, Max meets his future wife, Helen Givens, a white woman from Atlanta. Using a racist epithet, she rebuffs his request to dance; he is offended but not so offended as to forget about her completely, and she appears in his dreams when he finally falls sleep at the end of his night out.
The next day, Max hears about the Black-No-More treatment, a process that turns black people white, and he is determined to be the first black man to undergo the painful and exhausting process. The person desiring treatment must be strapped inside an apparatus that resembles a cross between an electric chair and a dentist’s chair. It costs $50, the modern-day equivalent of about $800, so savings accounts are emptied, and expenditures like hair-straightening treatments abandoned as residents of Harlem save up for the ultimate in cosmetic overhauls. The inventor of Black-No-More, Dr. Junius Crookman, created this process as a way for black people to solve their biggest problem, their skin color, and to escape the bias and discrimination that characterizes their lives in America. His first patient is his old acquaintance from Harlem, Max, and as soon as Max becomes white, he sells his story to a newspaper, and the treatment becomes an instant success for the doctor and his investors. As the treatment grows in popularity, black culture collapses in Harlem and elsewhere in America as the sanitariums sprout up in 50 cities.
As soon as he can, Max moves to Atlanta, changes his name to Matthew, and enjoys his newfound white privilege, until he finds himself missing his old life. Matthew must start to earn money, so he finds himself working for a white supremacist organization called the Knights of Nordica, led by Rev. Henry Givens, formerly of the Ku Klux Klan. Matthew sees Helen at the first Knights of Nordica meeting he attends, learns she is the reverend’s daughter, and marries her. With their marriage, his dreams have come true and he seals his fate: From now on, he serves the interests of the Knights of Nordica but not entirely at the expense of his own interests. Matthew’s side projects enable him to become a wealthy man while cementing the role of the Knights of Nordica in American society, and soon Rev. Givens, in all of his ignorance and prejudice, becomes well-known throughout the nation as a much-needed voice of reason amongst the racial tensions that are dominating Southern life.
As Matthew worries about Helen’s pregnancy, which is sure to result in a biracial baby, he schemes to make sure that his father-in-law, Rev. Givens, becomes the Democrat nominee for president; a proud self-described Anglo-Saxon from Richmond, Virginia named Arthur Snobbcraft is his running mate. Snobbcraft’s objective is to rescind American citizenship from anyone who does not boast pure Caucasian bloodlines, so he directs a team of researchers, led by a researcher named Dr. Buggerie, to trace the genealogy of every single American and to sniff out the “tainted” individuals. Dr. Buggerie’s discoveries are unexpected: Most Americans, including Snobbcraft, have evidence of intermixing in their family histories. When this information becomes public knowledge, the election is upset, Matthew and his family flee to Mexico, and two white men of prominent standing are tortured and lynched in rural Mississippi.