Any of the stunning literary works from the time in American history known as the Harlem Renaissance merit reading and study. For both their unique style and historical importance these writings and their authors present intriguing portraits of a time not so long ago. But while many of these works, such as the writing of Langston Hughes, are renowned and often the subject of classroom reading, there are many more to be explored. One such book is Comedy: American Style by Jessie Redmon Fauset.
Set across the US and abroad, this novel, published in 1933, explores issues of race and relationship in a world so focused on color. This novel follows the family of a middle-class African American woman, Olivia Cary, and her struggles with her own racial identity.
Confronted at an early age with the harsh racism of the time, Olivia soon learns that due to her light complexion she can “pass” for white. As Olivia grows and has children of her own, she is consumed by an intense hatred for her own heritage, and works tirelessly to root out any trace of it in her children and her life.
The Cary children and those close to them are also followed in this story. From only daughter Teresa’s fight against her mother to be a part of a race she is forbidden from, to youngest son Oliver’s tragic life as the dark skinned child of a mother who will barely acknowledge his existence, this story is often poignant and tragic.
Comedy: American Style carries with it a perspective that many may not be aware of. It deals with race and the problems of early 1900’s America in a unique way, and though it is often sad, it is nonetheless an important viewpoint to study.
For those with an interest in the time period and the issues surrounding the African American community at the time this book is a must read. Relatively easy to get through and with engaging and distinctive characters and style; Fauset’s book is certainly an interesting, if heartbreaking, piece of writing. Check it out here.