[By Kenton Rambsy]
Today, I have identified three novels that represent characters making migrations to New York City. In the “100 Novels Collection,” many of the characters move to NYC and leave the South behind. Most often, in our collection, male protagonists are making these moves.
The selection of three novels below, offers insight into the particular ways in which black novelists envision NYC and its relation to black life and black art in general.
James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) focuses on the trials of an unnamed, biracial narrator coming to grips with the tough racial realities in America. From his time as a child in a small Georgia town at the beginning of the novel to his decision to live as a white man in New York at the story’s end, readers come to grips with the tense social negotiations that are associated with skin tone, social status, and the larger legacy of slavery.
Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man (1952) deals with the educational and intellectual development of the unnamed protagonist. His travels from a small, college town in Alabama (largely inspired by Ellison’s experiences at Tuskegee) to New York bring the narrator face-to-face with the communist-like group the “Brotherhood and its chief rival Ras the Exhorter.
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Sport of the Gods (1902) focuses on the fictional accounts of the Hamilton family, a wealthy African American family, as they fall from social graces. Beginning in an unnamed Southern town as a very prosperous family and ending in New York City amongst scandal and prison, Dunbar creates a story about the numerous challenges, opportunities, and drawbacks about urban living.