Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

God Bless the Child borrows its title from Billie Holiday’s signature composition of the same title and is meant to evoke Holiday’s tragic life. Hunter uses lyrics from the song to divide, and connect thematically the three sections of the narrative, which roughly parallel and chronologically trace the equally tragic life of Rosalie Fleming.

The novel can most obviously be described as tragic realism, but it is really an examination of how the socioeconomic forces of racism and sexism affect the black community. More specifically, the author explores the dynamics of intraracial racism and how it damages the psyche of the darkest members of African American families.

Hunter’s work is in the tradition of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925) and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), works that expose the futility of aggressive materialism. Hunter goes a step further by adding another dimension, the black female experience. This perspective sets God Bless the Child apart, because the novel’s greater implications further indict the so-called American Dream.

The principal characters, three generations of African American women, each represent levels of historical progression in the African American condition. Lourinda is in the slave tradition literally and figuratively. She is satisfied with her place and glories in the position of preferred house servant. Queenie represents the post-Civil War disgruntled but directionless masses of black people who wanted to move forward but lacked the means. Although Rosie is not an active member of the Civil Rights movement, she reflects its evolving spirit of...

(The entire section is 696 words.)