Manchild in the Promised Land Essay - Critical Essays

Claude Brown


Manchild in the Promised Land is generally acknowledged to be among the first personal accounts of life in the African-American urban ghetto. Narrated using the language of the streets, the autobiography compellingly documents the horrors of drugs and violence without becoming preachy or ideological. Brown’s own life as a survivor and victor lends authority to his voice as he recounts the wasted lives of friends, some already dead, who were unable to overcome the Harlem street life. Young readers can relate to the story of this streetwise youth, who could operate successfully within the urban underworld but who was wise enough to see that it was a dead end.

Although Brown never glamorizes the life of drugs, violence, and prostitution, his use of humor and understatement allows him to avoid didacticism. He relates the story of his “religious conversion” as he rolled on the floor of a storefront church and shouted words of salvation, all in an attempt to get a date with the minister’s daughter. He can even recall his shooting at thirteen with a certain amount of humor. He tells of lying bleeding on the floor of a fish-and-chips shop while his mother hysterically jumped up and down, each jump vibrating the floor and causing the bullet lodged in his stomach to burn more painfully. He also tells of teenage girls visiting the hospital where he was recuperating from the wound and pulling down the bed sheets to verify the location of his injury....

(The entire section is 553 words.)