Masterplots II: African American Literature Angela Davis Analysis

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Davis employs her considerable narrative skill and facility with language, the inherent drama of her trial, and the emblematic aspects of her southern upbringing in a credible, highly self-aware autobiographical synthesis. By opening the book with the gripping episode of her flight and capture, she lays claim to readers’ sympathy and sets the stage for the unfolding of the narrative as backdrop to the climactic trial verdict. The outcome of the trial and her interpretation of it are intended not only to demonstrate her actual innocence of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy but also to vindicate her political views.

Davis shows the centrality of these views to her identity by narrating their genesis in the experiences of her childhood and adolescence and their application in her activism in California before and during her trial. She relates incidents and feelings from her childhood that place her story within the mainstream of African American experience and literature and set it in a familiar historical context. “From the time we were young,” she writes, “we children would go to the old family farm in Marengo County. . . . A visit to the country was like a journey backward into history; it was a return to our origins.” She writes of her grandmother, the child of slaves, who after death assumed heroic proportions in Davis’s eyes.

Davis also tells a fascinating anecdote of a visit she and her sister Fania made to a southern shoe store when they were teenagers. The sisters walked into the store speaking French to each other, pretending to be from Martinique. “At the sight of two young Black women speaking a foreign language, the clerks in the store raced to help us,” she relates. The clerks seated them in the front of the shop (normally reserved for whites only) and fawned over them. Angela and Fania began laughing; the store’s manager, suspecting a trick, asked uneasily, “Is something funny?”

“Suddenly I knew English,” recalls Davis, “and told him that he was what was so funny. ’All Black people have to do is pretend they come from another country, and you treat us like dignitaries.’ My sister and I got up,...

(The entire section is 889 words.)