66 pages 2 hours read

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Themes

The Importance of Historical Narrative for Constructing Identity

Ailey’s gradual development into a historian exemplifies Jeffers’s theme of the centrality of narrative to an individual’s or family’s sense of identity. In fact, history and its preservation are foundational to many of the African cultures from which Ailey and other Black Americans are partially descended, as Jeffers’s discussion of griots makes explicit: “Midas knew from his mother’s stories that her father had been a man whose job it was to remember the history of a single family in their village, going back for hundreds of years” (196). For the descendants of enslaved people, however, historical family narratives are often irretrievable because slave owners did not always keep detailed records about their enslaved workers. Pieces of data as basic as names can be difficult to research, as slave owners sometimes changed slaves’ first or last names, failed to call slaves any name at all, or gave slaves no last name. Furthermore, slavery often disrupted the oral histories that enslaved people might have relied on, impeding the transmission of information from one generation to the next with repeated dislocations and separations.

Anyone trying to research a family genealogy that involves enslaved people, therefore, commonly runs into gaps in the archive.

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