The Creation Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Johnson wrote “The Creation” in imitation of African American pulpit oratory. The poem eventually became a part of a seven-poem sequence published as God’s Trombones. The traditional sermon pattern that Johnson is imitating follows a sequence beginning with Creation, moving through the Fall of Man, the persecutions of the Hebrews, redemption through Christ’s Crucifixion, and finally to Judgment Day. Johnson’s poems basically correspond to this sequence. Though the source of this structure is biblical, the African American preacher was quite individualistic in his retelling of this story. Though Johnson consciously avoids dialect in the poems, he carefully embeds into the verse a nontraditional pattern of meter, using dashes to indicate pauses for breath and embedding syllables to create “a decided syncopation of speech.” In “The Creation,” God creates the world in the same basic sequence that he creates it in Genesis, but God in the poem is much more anthropomorphic than the Old Testament God. He walks around and looks around. He even puts his head in his hands. When he breathes life into man, God is “Like a mammy bending over her baby.”

The Creation Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Carroll, Anne. “Art, Literature, and the Harlem Renaissance: The Messages of God’s Trombones.” College Literature 29, no. 3 (Summer, 2002): 57-82.

Kostelanetz, Richard. Politics in the African American Novel: James Weldon Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Marren, Susan, and Robert Cochran. “Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man.” The Explicator 60, no. 3 (Spring, 2002): 147-149.

Rottenberg, Catherine. “Race and Ethnicity in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and The Rise of David Levinsky: The Performative Difference.” MELUS 29, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 2004): 307-321.

Ruotolo, Cristina L. “James Weldon Johnson and the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Musician.” American Literature 72, no. 2 (June, 2000): 249-274.

Sacher, Jack. “James Weldon Johnson and the Poetry of God’s Trombones.” The Choral Journal 40, no. 1 (1999): 25.

Schulz, Jennifer L. “Restaging the Racial Contract: James Weldon Johnson’s Signatory Strategies.” American Literature 74, no. 1 (March, 2002): 31-58.