Preaching in the Wilderness: John Marrant and John the Baptist

I enjoy teaching John Marrant’s A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealing with John Marrant, A Black (1785) for various reasons, chief among them being that Marrant’s narrative destabilizes students’ perceptions African Americans during the early years of the republic in similar ways that Sarah Kemble Knight does with women during the colonial period  and William Apess does with Native Americans later in the 1830s. Today, I want to look at Marrant’s narrative and his deployment of biblical figures throughout the text, specifically the connection between Marrant and John the Baptist. Joanna Brooks points out that Marrant’s narrative, Samson Occom’s narrative, and those of other people of color serve as representations of the American Lazarus through the writers’ facing of death and oppression (social and physical) and their resurrection. Marrant does not mention Lazarus in the Narrative, but  he does bring to mind Saul of Tarsus (Paul) and other biblical figures who experienced rescue and redemption.

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Frank Yerby’s Benton’s Row and Southern Womanhood

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In its review (above) of Frank Yerby’s Benton’s Row (1954), Jet Magazine mentions the novel’s early narrative arc that follows Tom Benton’s arrival in the Louisiana community and his relationship with Sarah. The reviewer comments that Tom “is not at all unlike all the other Yerby heroes” and that “in the typical Yerby mold [Tom] emerges as a thoroughgoing rascal, an opportunist who seizes what he wants” when he wants it. The reviewer’s words are spot on because Tom does fall into the mold of Stephen Fox from The Foxes of Harrow (1946) and the narrative, with some deviations, follows a similar pattern to Yerby’s first novel. What the reviewer misses, though, is the constant undercurrent that Yerby provides. Rather than upholding “a sidemeat-and-collard-greens South” that exists in the minds of some, Yerby challenges these perceptions. I wrote about this some in the last post, and today, I want to expand on this discussion some by looking specifically at Buford and Cindy.

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Frank Yerby and the Myth of Valor

15923220Frank Yerby’s Benton’s Row appeared in 1954, eight years after his debut novel The Foxes of Harrow (1946) In many ways, the narrative arcs are similar: a mysterious man comes to town, under mysterious circumstances, he makes a fortune, has numerous lovers, and his dynasty crumbles by the end of the novel. While The Foxes of Harrow focuses on Stephen Fox almost exclusively, ending around the Civil War, Benton’s Row follows Tom Benton as he arrives in Northwest Louisiana from Texas in 1842, escaping the hangman’s noose, and his progeny through the early 1920s. In fact, it would be more appropriate to say that the novel follows Sarah Benton, Tom’s wife, throughout her life. (At points, I kept thinking about Gaines’s epic The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) when reading the novel. The scope of time covered mirrors that text.)

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