The other extreme of contemporary black life is shown in Linden Hills, set in an affluent black suburb. In contrast to Brewster Place, Linden Hills is dominated by men, most notably by undertaker Luther Nedeed. Luther’s ancestors settled and laid out Linden Hills, and now Luther controls it through the Tupelo Realty Corporation and his personal influence. The suburb’s name, like its allure, is deceptive: Linden Hills is actually not several hills but only part of one hillside—a large, V-shaped area intersected by eight streets that curve around and down the slope. The further down the hillside one goes, the richer the residents become; in other words, the higher they climb in the socioeconomic hierarchy, the lower they sink in the moral order. Luther Nedeed’s home is at the very bottom, conveniently next to the graveyard.
Naylor’s symbolism seems to echo D. H. Lawrence’s sentiment that America is a death society. The fact that an undertaker presides over Linden Hills throws a certain pall over the suburb, but even more unsettling is the suburb’s street plan, which recalls the geography of Dante’s Hell. Two young unemployed poets, Lester and Willie (corresponding to Vergil and Dante), are introduced. Under the guise of earning some Christmas money by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, the young poets lead the reader on a guided tour of Linden Hills. The broad parallels to Dante’s Inferno in La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802) make it abundantly clear that Linden Hills is an allegory of the lost souls of affluent black people.
As the young poets move down the hillside,...
(The entire section is 680 words.)