Last post, I wrote about “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” in Richard Wright’s “Long Black Song.” Today, I want to look at another song in a short story, this time in Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation.” The bluegrass, gospel song “You Go to Your Church and I’ll Go to Mine” appears in “Revelation” while Ruby Turpin and her husband Claud sit in the doctor’s waiting room. The appearance of he song’s lyrics work in a subversive manner to undercut the facade that Ruby Turpin puts on for the world to see.
As I reread Richard Wright’s “Long Black Song” from Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), I again thought about the role of music in Wright’s work. I have written about this before in relation to the epigraph for Wright’s collection and in relation to the song that appears in “Big Boy Leaves Home.” Today, I want to briefly look at the way that the hymn “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” plays into the interactions between Sarah and the white gramophone salesman who accosts her in her own house.
Recently, I taught Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920) in my American literature survey course (1865-present). As I prepared to discuss the play with students, I struggled with what angle to take when exploring a text that contains stereotypical images of African Americans as well as images and sections that counter stereotypical assumptions about African Americans. Eventually, I settled on presenting both aspects to students and letting them think about how we should read The Emperor Jones: as a racist play or as a play that counters racist and imperialistic perspectives. We did not come to a clear answer to this question, and I do not think that is ultimately a bad thing; however, we did think about what exactly O’Neill wants us to take away from the story of Brutus Jones. Today, I want to talk about how I approached this play in the classroom to spark these types of conversations with students.