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This brilliant novel presents history and identity as being two concepts that are inseparable. The novel seems to suggest that who we are is a result of our own experience and history. Note the very direct question that Ras the Exhorter asks that demonstrates this fact:
What is your past and where are you going?
In addition, history and the act of remembering is shown to be very important in terms of achieving change and the art of protest. Note the comment that Mary Rambo gives to the protagonist concerning how it is the youth that will make changes, but that the real change will happen thanks to those from the South:
...something's else, it's the ones from the South that's got to do it, them what knows the fire and ain't forgot how it burns. Up here too many forgits.
Such quotes suggest that history is an incredibly important factor that impacts on who we are, if only we choose not to forget our history. If we consider the importance of history and its various manifestations in the novel, we are directed towards a view of history as one unending cycle of discrimination that will never end. Consider, for example the way that the list of belongings of the couple the protagonist discovers on the sidewalk in Harlem acts as almost a summary of the story of blacks in America. Let us note that it is the power of this inventory and its various associations that drive the protagonist to engage in public speaking for the first time in his life. Whilst change is something that so many characters strive for, history seems to mock such efforts by demonstrating the pervasive influence of discrimination and racism in all ages.
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