Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

African American literature has a strong tradition of autobiography that has been sustained by such artistic forms as slave narratives and the blues as well as by more Eurocentric examples of the genre. Within that tradition, women’s accounts of their own history are of particular significance and constitute a crucial expression of the African American experience. Their significance derives from the historical status of women, generally considered, and from the relation of this marginalized status to that of women who were already members of a marginalized social group. The emphases, tempo, and content of African American women’s autobiography provide a comprehensive perspective from which typical African American experiences can be reappraised. Black Ice participates fully in, and tacitly articulates a sophisticated awareness of, the role of women’s autobiography in African American cultural self-consciousness, particularly since, as a narrative of education, one of its inevitable themes is the growth and development of a consciousness.

The work opens with a sequence of glimpses from graduation day at St. Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire, and closes with the recollection of further moments from that graduation weekend. The author is present in her capacity as a member of the school’s board of governors, a status that is implicitly contrasted with Lorene Cary’s initial affiliation with St. Paul’s. It was at this school that she spent two decisive years as an adolescent scholarship girl from Yeadon, a black area in West Philadelphia. In Yeadon, she had attended public school, worked at the lunch counter of the local Woolworth’s, and had comparatively little experience of the social world or cultural mission of powerful white institutions, or even of the kinds of Philadelphia suburbs in which St. Paul’s genteel though perceptive recruiters lived.

Cary’s two years at the elite, Episcopalian, newly coeducational St. Paul’s is what makes up the bulk of Black Ice. The contrast between the author’s teenage and adult selves becomes a means whereby readers can appreciate the cultural issues and the human drama of the story of the author’s actual schooling. By opening her narrative with a depiction of the school’s class of 1989 as it assembles to receive its diplomas, Cary suggests that Black...

(The entire section is 966 words.)