Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Appalachee Red achieves two equally important things: First, the novel retells the history of the realities of the American South from an African American perspective; second, the narrator exemplifies the best of the African American storyteller in the oral tradition. This first part of Andrews’s Muskhogean Trilogy firmly establishes both the story and the craft that the author continues in Rosiebelle Lee Wildcat Tennessee (1980) and Baby Sweet’s (1983).

The focus of the novel is on the larger-than-life character known only as “Appalachee Red.” Woven into the story of Red and his exploits, though, are numerous other stories about the South, its people—white and black—its codes of conduct and ethics, and its history.

Appalachee Red is born as a result of the tragic but common southern circumstance of forced sexual relations between an African American woman and her white employer. Andrews does not dwell on this occurrence as an individual tragedy of the offspring, however, but portrays its tragic results for his mother, who must separate from her child to save her own marriage and household. Further, Andrews points out the tragedy of such unions for southern white women, who must not only endure the fact of sexual relationships between their male family members and African American women but who must also live with the awareness of the children of such unions. Andrews points out that the white fathers are usually deprived of meaningful relationships with their biracial children; John Morgan is deprived of the exceptional talents of his illegitimate son, as Red proves to be a far more shrewd and successful businessman than either of Morgan’s two legitimate sons.

Another tragic reality for southern African Americans that Andrews addresses in Appalachee Red is the exploitation of their labor by white property owners. This is most clearly seen in Andrews’s depiction of a section of Muskhogean County called Hard Labor Hole. “The Hole” is a former swamp that has been purchased by Jake Turner and cleared, filled in, planted, worked, and made profitable by African American convict labor leased from the state. Andrews points out that there were hardly any differences for African...

(The entire section is 924 words.)