What social concepts are found throughout Manchild in the Promised Land? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most dominant concepts that Brown illuminates in his work is the idea of the "Promised Land."  Brown makes clear that for many African- Americans like himself, the migration from the South to the North was steeped in the spiritual construction of "the Promised Land:"  

Going to New York was goodbye to the cotton fields, goodbye to 'Massa Charlie,' goodbye to the chain gang, and, most of all, goodbye to those sunup-to-sundown working hours. One no longer had to wait to get to heaven to lay his burden down; burdens could be laid down in New York.

Brown understood that the "Promised Land" was leaving the world of the South and entering a world of the North where the physical condition and remnants of slavery were in the past.  Yet, the question that emerges is what happens when this hope is far from the truth.  The world that greets Brown is far from the "Promised Land."  The ending of the work crystallizes this condition: “Where does one run to when he’s already in the promised land?”  The idea of "Now, what?" becomes a dominant concept in the work.  Brown's work reminds us that the promises and possibilities of America must be realized for so many people who find themselves marginalized in "the Promised Land."

The promises and possibilities of both "the Promised Land" and America, as a whole, become another central social concept in the work.  It is one in which Brown forces the reader to recognize that reality for many African- Americans could very well be different than what their White counterparts experience. The desolate world with limited opportunity, rampant indulgence in vice, and a vortex where escape and liberation is difficult are realities that drive the social conceptual framework of the narrative.  Brown asserts that his identity is rooted in being a part of “the first Northern urban generation of Negroes.”   This reality is a social concept that adds to the power of the work.  It becomes clear that the social concept of the urban ghetto and the condition of hopelessness that accompanied so much zeal in the "promised land" is an essential component of the narrative.  Exploring this dynamic is one of Brown's primary motivations.