The Chosen Place, the Timeless People Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Paule Marshall

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

In its analysis of characters who are inseparable from their particular culture, and in its insistence on the intersections of the past and present, The Chosen Place, the Timeless People is a culmination of Marshall’s earlier work. Marshall moves from a localized setting in which she focuses primarily on one character or one family to the entire sociocultural fabric of Bournehills as a prototypical Third World country. Her scope is considerably larger than in her previous works, yet the people of this novel are psychologically related to characters in her earlier novels and stories. The Chosen Place, the Timeless People, in its characters, themes, and techniques, creates a coherent universe of Marshall’s work. Marshall has matured as a writer in this novel, but her vision has not changed dramatically; rather, her emphasis moves from the way that the world affects an individual psyche to the way that many psyches create a world.

Marshall’s presentation of a black woman as a major actor in the social, political, and cultural issues of her society can be compared to Alice Walker’s depiction of the title character in her novel Meridian (1976). Both Merle and Meridian are new literary characters in African American women’s novels, complex women struggling to understand themselves as black and female. In seeking their own identity, they find that they must pursue major social transformation. They are female literary characters of a social and political depth seldom seen in African American literature. In developing a character such as Merle Kinbona within the context of her particular society, Marshall announced the major theme of African American women’s fiction of the 1970’s, in which black women were being presented both as complex, developing persons and as active participants in the sociopolitical world.

The Chosen Place, the Timeless People has been praised for examining the problems facing many Third World countries in their struggle to establish a national identity. In this novel, black culture in the Western Hemisphere is linked with its African past and the promise of the future. Marshall proposes that the hope for the future lies in borrowing this past and using it as the basis for unified action and power.