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

Jessie Redmon Fauset

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Plum Bun is generally considered to be one of Fauset’s best novels. Fauset, however, has been valued more for her social and journalistic contributions to the Harlem Renaissance than for the considerable literary and cultural value of her fiction. Her fiction has also been misjudged by those who claim that, as an upper-middle-class black woman, she had more sympathy for white American values than for the values of black Americans. A careful reading of Plum Bun reveals that Fauset is, indeed, in sympathy with black American values. Her point is that blacks in cities such as New York can find their identity only when they can work through the myths and social constructs of the dominant white culture. Fauset chose Angela rather than Virginia as her protagonist, not because she wanted to promote the values of the marketplace but because she wanted to depict both the internal and the external struggle that is often necessary in order to achieve black pride.

With the recent emphasis on feminist criticism, Fauset’s work is receiving the comprehensive attention it deserves. She is no longer dismissed as a writer who wanted, through the novel of manners, to promote the values of a white, class society. By focusing more on the techniques that Fauset used to present the struggle of her major women figures, contemporary critics can separate Fauset’s views from those of her characters—for example, no longer is there the simplistic assumption that Fauset validates such beliefs as Angela articulates through most of the narrative. What Angela does admire and value at the end—authentic emotional expression, the bonds of sisterhood and talent, the enhancement of a culture through the vitality of its members—is humanistic values that are not class-dependent, nor are they very evident in the white society that dominates Angela’s life. These values are, however, as in the community of Harlem, able to have their impact on cultural growth, both within the black community and perhaps, with even more struggle, within the entire American culture.