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Blacks in Eden

The African American Novel's First Century
J. Lee Greene

BUY Paper · 306 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813916712 · $26.50 · Sep 1996

This work examines African-American fiction, discussing how African-American novelists worked with the same mythic materials as their white counterparts, but inverted Anglo-American constructions. Relating the novel to history, it shows how they refuted Anglo-Americans' record of history.


Greene (English, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) focuses on the Eden trope in African American literature, based largely on biblical stories of the fall of man. He contends that the "formulation of a black discourse in the novel was in large part a direct response to Anglo-Americans' use of the Eden trope as a blueprint for American society." His work provides a discussion of many novels from William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853) to Waters Turpin's The Rootless (1957). It is not, however, a history of the African American novel?and therefore offers few plot summaries of the works. Still, Green provides an illuminating study of several of the novels, including Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars, George Schuvler's Black No More, Ann Petry's The Street, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Although readers unfamiliar with academic discourse will find this rough going in spots, Greene's treatise supplies a useful resource for specialists in the field.

Library Journal

About the Author(s): 

Jack P. Greene is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at The Johns Hopkins University. He has published extensively, and his books include Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607-1783; and Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of the Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture.

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