Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

If, from the point of view of the author’s experience, Black Ice is less about the humanities than it is about humanity, this is not to suggest that the story it tells has no bearing on the humanities. The educational setting makes it inevitable that questions concerning curricular content, cultural emphasis, and the like arise, particularly in view of the author’s sensitivity to the authority of certain cultural idioms. While it would be misleading to consider Black Ice as a contribution to contemporary public debate on such subjects as multiculturalism and ethnic diversity, the cultural challenge that Lorene faces speaks to the relevance of such a debate—particularly since so many of the contributors to the debate are members of the author’s generation and maintain positions that derive from variations of her cultural and institutional experiences.

Such a context for Black Ice draws attention to a more fundamental basis for the work’s noteworthiness. The author’s generation emerged into adulthood in the immediate wake of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s as the direct inheritors of that movement’s moral authority and of the legislative response that the assertion of that authority prompted. As such, they were available to areas of American experience in larger numbers than had historically been the case hitherto, available in particular to the American experience in its mainstream, institutional manifestations. In the light of such developments, reflected in society at large by the increased size of the African American middle class, Lorene Cary’s story may be seen as not merely an account of a personal odyssey through a certain phase of her development but also as an exemplary enactment of choices with which some members of the post-civil rights generation of African Americans were confronted.

Black Ice is not the major imaginative statement that some African American women writers have made. Because the book focuses more on matter than on method, moreover, Cary’s work may seem inadequately aware of the illustrious tradition of African American autobiography to which it contributes. In certain fundamental respects, however, Black Ice provides readers with critical instruction regarding the social relevance and human exigency of the strains and tensions latent in the cultural classification “African American.”