Community and History (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The title story of the first posthumous collection, “Ark of Bones,” exemplifies the tension between communities set in history and those placed outside history. As in almost all the stories collected in Ark of Bones, the tension between the two communities is represented by two male protagonists—here, Head-eye and Fish-hound. As the narrator, Fish-hound is the voice of convention, spokesman for the community; he is the everyday, normal person. Head-eye, though, is uncommon. As the narrator says, he is “bout the ugliest guy I ever run upon” and “bout the smartest nigger in that raggedy school.” More important, Head-eye follows his mojo to an Ark that majestically and magically rises from the Mississippi River, bearing within its hull all the bones and spirits of enslaved Africans. The allusion to Noah’s Ark is deliberate; in Judaic-Christian theology, Noah’s Ark is an emblem of God’s mercy and grace, an island of life surrounded by a sea of death.
The Ark of Bones is, for Head-eye and, eventually, for Fish-hound, a sign of a promise more radical than the Judaic covenant. For them, the Ark of Bones is an island of life-in-death surrounded by a sea (the community) of death-in-life. Rather than the simple disruptive discontinuity symbolized by the Flood and Noah’s Ark, the Ark of Bones allows Head-eye and Fish-hound to end the isolation of a black community uprooted from the soil of its ancestry. At the story’s end, however,...
(The entire section is 1008 words.)
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