A Summer Tragedy

by Arna Bontemps
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How does Bontemps address stereotypes of blackness in "A Summer Tragedy?"

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Bontemps presents some very distinctive elements of life in the short story.  I think that Bontemps is using elements of the stereotype to actually probe the depth of his characters into something more intricate.  It is important to keep in mind that whatever elements of the stereotype is brought out, there is much more in way of complexity within these characters.  The Patton couple acquire great depth, even though they fulfill the condition of a stereotypical view of Southern Blacks.  Jeff works the land and is squeezed by a system that denies him any chance of equal compensation with his White counterparts.  The dialect that is used in the characterizations of both husband and wife is reflective of the Southern African- American.  The fact that both have suffered immensely and also have endured the loss of children is both reflective of the stereotype and begins the divergence from it.  The stereotype would show the husband and wife as enduring their difficulties.  Yet, the unique characterization of husband and wife involves their preparedness for their journey, as well as the apprehension experienced by Jennie as they get closer to it.  While Bontemps plays with the idea that these two people of color have little control over their lives, which might feed a particular stereotype, he shows their decision to be something that both embrace almost as a form of empowerment, which certainly goes against the stereotype.  The decision that both end up undertaking with the other by their side as the only absolute certainly goes against the stereotype and makes them on the level of heroic protagonists who "take fatal action with more or less awareness of what they are doing, and more or less wisdom about the inevitability of human suffering."

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