The Blacker the Berry is divided into five sections. Although they vary to some degree in length and differ greatly as to the length of time that is covered, each of these sections ends with a decision or a revelation on the part of the protagonist, Emma Lou Morgan.
In the first section of The Blacker the Berry, entitled “Emma Lou,” the protagonist, eighteen-year-old Emma Lou Morgan, is shown at her high school graduation in Boise, Idaho, the only black face in a sea of white ones. Aware not only of her difference from her classmates but also, more painfully, of the degree to which she is an outsider in her light-skinned family, Emma Lou is almost too embarrassed to walk up and receive her diploma. Her mother, Jane Lightfoot Morgan, has always let Emma Lou know that because of her black skin, flat nose, and thick lips, she is the family disgrace. Only Emma Lou’s uncle, Joe Lightfoot, holds out some hope for the girl; he assures her that color prejudice is found only in provincial towns like Boise. At the University of Southern California, he promises, Emma Lou will be accepted.
Unfortunately, Uncle Joe is wrong. During her first weeks in Los Angeles, Emma Lou discovers that because of her color, she is excluded not only from the sorority that has been organized by African American girls but also from even the most casual social contacts. The only men who will take her out are the uneducated ones whom another outcast manages to find.
Back home for the summer, Emma Lou begins to see Weldon Taylor, who introduces her to the pleasures of sex, and for the first time in her life, she feels that someone really cares about her. When Weldon has to leave town in order to earn enough money to return to medical school, however, Emma Lou wrongly assumes that she has once again been rejected because of her skin color.
After two more miserable years in Los Angeles, Emma Lou comes to the conclusion that only in a larger black community will she find the acceptance she craves. She decides to take any job that will take her to Harlem.
The rest of the novel is set in New York. In “Harlem,” Thurman follows Emma Lou through just one day to suggest how disillusioning her experiences there will be. After she has been in...
(The entire section is 934 words.)