*Harlem. Predominantly African American neighborhood in New York City’s Upper Manhattan. Harlem is the scene of the real-time narrative of the novel, an urban community in which the lives of the central characters intertwine. Harlem is also symbolic of the historic northward migration of African Americans seeking escape from the Jim Crow South in the early twentieth century. As a physical marker of historical transition, Harlem symbolizes an ambiguous free space for the Grimes family, providing the sanctuary of a black-defined neighborhood in America, but also signifying restricted space on another level for the characters. For example, when John Grimes and his biological father, Richard, try to create a life outside the boundaries of Harlem, they must struggle with external racial barriers and internalized mental barriers to do so.
*American South. As a region, the South resonates with symbolic importance in the memories, prayers, and visions of the novel’s characters. None of the real-time action of the novel occurs in the South; however, the South is symbolic of the psychological and historical origins of the Grimes family and other key characters. The South also works symbolically on other levels. It signifies the legacy of slavery in American history, with all of its physical, mental, spiritual and political implications for the characters, for African American history, and for the country as a whole. As embodied in the consciousness of the characters, the South...
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