Infants of the Spring Essay - Critical Essays

Wallace Thurman

Critical Context

Thurman’s second novel, Infants of the Spring, is part of a body of African American literature, written during the Harlem Renaissance and after, that is as critical of black people as it is of the conditions that black people struggle against. Like his contemporaries Richard Bruce Nugent, Aaron Douglas, Nella Larsen, and Langston Hughes, for example, Thurman often turned his critical eye on black leaders and black middle-class society.

Thurman’s attempts to offer alternatives for black artists, especially the younger ones who had something new to say, are contained in Fire!!, a literary journal he founded and edited, and Harlem, a more general and less bold periodical. Furthermore, in his first novel, The Blacker the Berry (1929), he castigated the black middle-class community for its negative treatment of darker-complexioned African Americans and its adherence to white middle-class values that often had little to recommend them.

Thurman’s criticism of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance makes its most significant argument by exposing the ways in which the movement prevented younger artists from doing their work. He notes a contradiction when leaders such as Dr. Parkes (Alain Locke) insist that the movement intends to bring freedom and equality to black people but who then block the avenues through which artists might find access to an audience. Artists who challenge authority have little place to turn and no freedom to express creativity. This is disturbing to Thurman. His exposé of the temper of the cultural renaissance of the 1920’s is his resistance to cultural authority.

Most initial reviewers of Infants of the Spring either liked it or hated it. Those who applauded it thought Thurman captured a reality that was lacking in other works of the period. Those who despised it thought it was wrong of him to present dissension among black artists and leaders to the general public.

Infants of the Spring is a faithful account of one of the twentieth century’s most productive times for black artists and an account of the movement’s effects on some artists who wanted to be different.