Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Importance of Ancestry

In Toni Morrison's essay, "City Limits, Village Values", she examines white authors' tendancy, be it explicity or implicity to deplore the progress of cities, and view the village as representing personal freedom and privacy, in its simplicity and purity. This revelation is juxtaposed with her notion that black fiction writers' affinity for the city, or pro-urbanism is a result for a desire for opposrtunity and progress; a city is only disdained when it is missing one integral element, (which Morrison exemplifies through citing evidence on the importance of this element in the works of several black writers): the ancestor. "The city is wholesome, loved when such an ancestor is on the scene, when neighborhood links are secure. The country is beautiful--healing because more often than not, such an ancestor is there"(39).
The ancestor is the voice of reason; the ancestor keeps the ideals of a people alive. "When the Black America writer experiences the country or the village, he does so not to experience nature as a balm for his separate self, but to touch the ancestor. When he cannot (because the ancestor is not there, or because he cannot communicate with him), then and only then is he frustrated, defeated, devestated, and unregenerated(39). The important word to note in this example is "regenerated": the ancestor provides a link to an identity that is shaped by the characteristics we have inherited from our kin. Understanding and revering your inherited characteristics leads one to an acceptance of the self, and subsequently the surroundings, rendering the city just as a wonderful a place as the village, as represented in black fiction, when that connection with the past can still be forged.
I absolutely agree with Courtney that in Naylor's "The Women of Brewster Place", Mattie, Ben and Miss Eva serve as the ancestoral links for the next generation of Brewster Place. Morrison notes that Harlem is, both in literature and reality, the closest thing to a "Black city" that still held a village quality. This is true of Brewster Place, though on a smaller scale. Brewster Place is the quintessential example of the "American Dream" as seen and lived through the lenses of Black Americans. Mattie represents the keeper of the village values for the women of Brewster Place; she a voice of reason, with her moral authoritiy resulting from her experience. She and Ben serve as the glue holding that neighborhood together, uniting the different women through a mutual relationship to themselves. Both characters are able to look at situations from the outside in, and serve as a guide to the generations who are experiencing life as they already have. I believe that Mattie's respect for the importance of such a person in the village comes from her time spent with Miss Eva, who was just such a guide to her in her young age and times of trouble. Brewster Place is a village that is its peoples' own, and the ancestors are the ones who teach its women to respect that: to appreciate the freedom that such resposibility and ownership entails, and what makes this black fiction uniquely pro-urban.