Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Manchild in the Promised Land is the odyssey of a young black man through the treacherous streets of Harlem and beyond. In the person of Sonny, the book’s narrator, Claude Brown tells his own story of growth and survival against all odds. Though some of the book is fiction, this autobiographical novel remains an authentic account of Brown’s evolution from tough, hardened streetfighter to a young man on the brink of becoming one of the most powerful writers of the urban African American experience.
By the time he is eleven, Sonny is already a member of a street gang called the Buccaneers; the gang’s main objective is to steal as much and as often as possible. After he is arrested for stealing, Sonny is sent to the Wiltwyck School for emotionally and socially maladjusted boys. He joins many of his friends who, like Sonny, have been arrested as minors. He also meets Mr. Papenek, the school’s administrator, who plays an important role in influencing Sonny’s life. Papenek, though physically unimpressive, commands Sonny’s respect through his knowledge, polished demeanor, and overall kindness. For the first time in his young life, Sonny realizes that power can be derived from sources other than the gun, fist, or gang; it can be found within the intelligent, educated mind. Though much time passes before Sonny is strong enough to act on the example Papenek sets for him, he never forgets the faith the older gentleman placed in him. Brown...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Claude Brown’s classic autobiography Manchild in the Promised Land is a quintessentially American story of hardship and disadvantage overcome through determination and hard work, but with a critical difference. It became a best-seller when it was published in 1965 because of its startlingly realistic portrayal of growing up in Harlem. Without sermonizing or sentimentalizing, Brown manages to evoke a vivid sense of the day-to-day experience of the ghetto, which startled many readers and became required reading, along with The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), for many civil rights activists.
Manchild in the Promised Land describes Brown’s resistance to a life path that seemed predetermined by the color of his skin and the place he was born. In the tradition of the slave narrative of the nineteenth century, Brown sets about to establish his personhood to a wide audience, many of whom would write him off as a hopeless case. The book opens with the scene of Brown being shot in the stomach at the age of thirteen after he and his gang are caught stealing bed sheets off a laundry line. What follows is the storyline most would expect of a ghetto child—low achievement in school, little parental supervision, and a sense of hopelessness about the future. There are crime, violence, and drugs lurking in every corner of Harlem, and young Sonny (Claude) falls prey to many temptations.
In spite of spending most of his early...
(The entire section is 363 words.)