Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
More than in many short-story collections, the stories in Let the Dead Bury Their Dead are unified by several common themes and ideas. In many of these stories, there is an implicit acceptance of the supernatural world as a real one that sometimes affects the world of everyday reality. This supernatural world is often linked to sexual passion, to spiritual searching and spiritual passion, and to storytelling itself. All these forces are presented as being possibly transformational but also unreliable and disruptive.
The story “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead” begins with several quotations including one by the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin from The Dialogic Imagination (1981) that identifies the fantastic in folklore as a “realistic fantastic” that Bakhtin associates with “those eternal demands” of men. This quotation is followed by a shorter one from Zora Neale Hurston: “Now you are going to hear lies above suspicion.” The implication is that the fantastic is used in a similar way by Kenan in his own stories, and that a reader should not worry too much about what could “realistically” have happened but instead should ask how the fantastic is used in the stories.
In the story “Things of This World,” John Edgar Stokes encounters a Chinese man named Chi, whose name in an African tongue means “personal god” and who seems literally to have fallen from the sky. After facing down some local white bigots,...
(The entire section is 1047 words.)
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