Examine how the situational complexity in The Warmth of Other Suns might be described as being both positive and negative.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The complexity in Wilkerson's text can be described as both positive and negative.  Wilkerson is keen enough to construct an aura of complexity around The Great Migration in The Warmth of Other Suns.  Part of this situational complexity exists in depicting the challenges that the Great Migration presented to Southern Blacks who went up North.  In its broadest sense, the Great Migration involved people moving from one American region to another.  Many undertake this type of movement every day.  Yet, the challenges that many African- Americans confronted in making such a move almost made it as if it were migrating to another nation entirely.  This is part of the complexity that African- Americans from the South faced.  Small and large issues confronted them, making their narrative a complex one.  From not being able to understand the dialect difference between "Penn Station, Newark" and its New York counterpart to the reality of life in the North, one where "the specter of racial caste was omnipresent," Wilkerson depicts a complex narrative where much in way of sadness and pain exists.  The move to the North was not the traditional movement to "the land of milk and honey."  Rather, Wilkerson's work shows how complex the issues of race, class, and gender were for African- Americans throughout the Great Migration.

Yet, this complexity extends to how there are redemptive and positive elements within Wilkerson's work.  Part of this resides in the personal narratives the she depicts.  Wilkerson makes the argument that while there were challenges within the Great Migration, there was a fundamentally redemptive element within it.  Many children were able “to grow up free of Jim Crow and to be their fuller selves” because of the Great Migration.  Within the pain and suffering of the migration existed this fundamentally redemptive premise.  At the same time, Wilkerson makes clear that African- Americans who made the move embraced an aspect of what it means to be American by embarking on a "hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were. They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done. They left.”  This is a fundamentally positive aspect within the complexity of the Great Migration.  Wilkerson depicts the narratives of people such as Ida Mae Gladney, who migrated to Chicago and whom Wilkerson accompanies back to Mississippi.  When they come across a cotton field, Gladney suggests to Wilkerson  that both women pick cotton.  Wilkerson notes that, “It’s as if she can’t wait to pick it now that she doesn’t have to... It’s the first time in her life that she can pick cotton of her own free will.”  It is this level of choice and autonomy that was a positive part of the complex legacy in the Great Migration.  Gladney and many others demonstrate that they can live in both realms, seeking to find "the warmth of other suns" and "perhaps, to bloom."

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