Platitudes Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Trey Ellis

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Trey Ellis’s style in this, his first novel, is not identical to Dewayne’s but is also postmodern and experimental. In addition to its postmodern flair, the book is obviously influenced by the development of the African American novel. While Ellis questions and gently parodies some of the assumptions and approaches of the more traditional African American novel, he also pays homage to it: Dewayne is a fan of Isshee’s mainstream novels, while she lists James Baldwin, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison (as well as T. S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald) among those writers who have influenced her most.

Ellis’s purpose is not to reject or condemn literature that focuses on aspects of African American life but rather to argue that literature by and for African Americans need not focus exclusively on issues of race. In a 1989 article, Ellis describes the “New Black Aesthetic,” a new literary trend being developed by black artists to whom he refers as “cultural mulattoes.” These artists can embrace both African American culture and mainstream “white” culture, both Geoffrey Chaucer and Richard Pryor, “both Jim and Toni Morrison.” Elsewhere, Ellis has stated, “In the past some wanted to force Black artists to only write about jazz and Africa and poverty. Black folks deserve and crave more choices.” By contrasting Earle and Dorothy’s suppression of their identities as black Americans and Isshee’s obsession with blackness and black experience, Ellis seems to be suggesting that neither extreme is a tenable position, that both result in gaps and missed opportunities, and that a middle ground should be sought or created.