(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

One of the recurring means by which the author dramatizes the fundamental nature of her experience of transition and development is in terms of trust. In a manner that expresses the difficult dichotomies that arise out of the invitation to be assimilated into an America that she had never adequately known, and which she regarded skeptically, the issue of trust is represented in two distinct ways. One of these articulates the challenge being confronted in terms of “a leap of faith.” This term, associated primarily with the theologian Paul Tillich, is used in Black Ice as a cultural or intellectual nmemonic, a means by which young Lorene keeps bearing in mind the need to shed some of the inhibitions and reservations that her presence at St. Paul’s inevitably generates. To invest herself without qualification in the institutional and educational world of the school, to accept that this model of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant power will work to her benefit, seems to demand a disposition as mysteriously liberated as the phrase “a leap of faith” projects. In order to convey her difficulty, the author draws on part of her own cultural tradition, a West Indian folktale told by her grandfather.

The story deals with a child who is encouraged by her father to jump, and eventually does jump only to find that her father does not break her fall as promised. By means of this experience, the father intends to foster a disposition of mistrust and self-protection in his daughter. Despite the genuine appeal of the Paul Tillich phrase, and despite the academic and other significant endorsements that Lorene finds attached to it, she also discovers the need to counterbalance it through an idiom and example that speaks more explicitly to her relationship with her context. The power of the different verbal structures, and the author’s keen sensitivity to the authority of language to encode commands and prescriptions, warnings and invitations, and to recognize the cultural force of these encodings surreptitiously pervades her sense of her education as, fundamentally, a language system. The ability of what might be termed the author’s native language to be heard by the more rarified orthodoxy of institutional language remains somewhat in...

(The entire section is 917 words.)