If, as A. C. Bradley once said, waste is the single most important characteristic of tragedy, then many of the characters in All-Bright Court must be considered tragic. Despite their own best efforts, these characters finally fail.
Samuel Taylor’s dream is to feel like a real man, respected by others and, even more important, by himself. In the South, he is treated as an inferior. In the North, he believes that things will be different. For years, Samuel continues to struggle, clinging to his sense of self-worth. With each threat to his income, however, Samuel becomes less confident, until at last he lives not with hope but with the bitter knowledge that his dream of equality will never be fulfilled. Courageously, he encourages his children to leave the African American community, where they will have no more opportunities than he has had, and to move into the white world, even though he realizes that as they do so, they will inevitably move away from their parents.
Mary Kate and Venita both suffer not only as African Americans but also as women. Because of their limited experience, they know no other route to success than to fulfill the conventional roles of wives and mothers. Because they have no source of information, they do not know that medical help exists that could alleviate the problems that afflict them both. Mary Kate, therefore, continues to bear one child after another, assuming that she has no choice; when Venita does not become pregnant, she feels that it is somehow her fault. Like Samuel, both Mary Kate and Venita are admirable and even heroic characters. They struggle, often vainly, to make things better for others, even though they themselves increasingly feel betrayed by life.
Mikey Taylor seems to be the only successful character in the novel. He is fortunate: He is intelligent, and he has parents who encourage him while systematically imbuing him with their own high moral and ethical standards....
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