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Wallace Thurman’s 1932 novel Infants of the Spring is a satire of many of the commonly named and less commonly named figures of the Harlem Renaissance (1920s to 1930s), including W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Zora Neale Hurston. These intellectuals and artists failed, Thurman seems to argue, because they couldn’t agree on a unified program for the emerging movement. The disagreement can be seen clearly in Section 20, in which a range of the characters in the novel argue about what the New Negro artist should embrace: art for art’s sake, art for racial uplift, art for social revolution, etc.
This brilliant satire takes on not only the movement as a while, of course; it also presents unforgettable caricatures of individual figures of the Harlem Renaissance. For example, Countee Cullen (DeWitt Clinton) is criticized for playing down his African American heritage, Richard Bruce Nugent (represented by Paul Arbian) is portrayed as overly dramatic and underproductive as an artist, and Zora Neale Hurston (represented by Sweetie May Carr) is criticized for catering to a “paleface audience” and for depicting “darkies [who] always smiled through their tears.”
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