Themes and Concerns

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Three major themes appear consistently in Baraka’s works. First is an antagonism toward mainstream American culture that begins as an expression of personal disillusionment in poems of Baraka’s Beat generation period (1958-1964) and is later developed during his Black Nationalist (1965-1973) and Marxist (after 1974) periods into a more directly political critique. Baraka persistently views mainstream culture as shallow and hypocritical. He is even harsher in his judgment of the African American middle class.

Influenced by Howard University sociologist E. Franklin Frazier’s assessment of this group in Black Bourgeoisie (1957), Baraka finds the members of this group to be intimidated and unimaginative imitators of their white counterparts. This view is expressed in poems such as “Hymn for Lanie Poo” (1961) and “Poem for Half-White College Students” (1964) as well as in many of his essays. In the discussions of the African American middle class from his later Marxist period, Baraka seems to think of its members as mendacious rather than misguided. He adopts the word comprador, a term used in the Portuguese colonies in Africa to denounce a native who actively assisted the colonial authorities.

Baraka’s second theme, complementing this attack on supporters of the status quo, is the political potential of the alienated black masses, whose members are depicted both as victims of a racist society and as inheritors of...

(The entire section is 598 words.)