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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 254

The Blacker the Berry is a novel by Wallace Thurman that came out in 1929. Thurman was a member of the Harlem Renaissance, which was a prolific artistic movement of Black creative people from that time period.

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The main character of this story, Emma Lou Morgan, who is a Black person with dark skin.

The main themes in the story have to do with a concept called "colorism." Essentially, this is the idea that racial discrimination is a tiered process. Black people with lighter skin sometimes tend to associate themselves with white people and look down upon those who have darker skin, in other words. Emma Lou Morgan goes through this process herself, experiencing discrimination and striving to be comfortable with how dark her skin is.

Other related themes include racism in general. This theme is seen when Emma goes to college at USC, where many of the white students look down on her and the other Black students even avoid her altogether due to the segregation there.

Another more general theme is that of belonging. The sensation of wanting to belong in the situation you find yourself in is a fundamental human theme. Racism and colorism serve as barriers to this human need, and this is a pervasive theme in the novel.

A quote from the novel that encapsulates Emma’s need to belong and its connection with discrimination is this one:

Perhaps if she were to live with a homey type of family they could introduce her to “the right sort of people.”

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

One of the subjects of The Blacker the Berry is color prejudice among black people. Thurman attacks this kind of discrimination in several ways. As a satirist, he shows the folly of basing any estimate of worth on appearance. Thus Emma Lou’s grandmother, Maria Lightfoot, is proud of her “blue vein circle,” so named because one must have a skin light enough so that one’s veins are visible in order to belong. The fact that this aristocratic group is located in a place as small as Boise, Idaho, makes her pretensions even more patently ridiculous.

It is particularly illogical for African Americans to assign social status on the basis of how un-African one looks, since by doing so they are denying their own heritage and accepting white values. When Maria calls Emma Lou’s father and Emma Lou “niggers” or “niggerish,” she is echoing the words of white racists. Similarly, when the comedians at the Lafayette Theater show a thick-lipped, coal-black Topsy as someone whom no one would want, they are underlining the assumption that ugliness is colored black. In “Rent Party,” a group of intellectuals discuss the racist basis for color prejudice; however, they ignore the most eloquent argument against it, the suffering of the girl who is sitting mute beside them.

In the person of Emma Lou, The Blacker the Berry shows how color prejudice harms individuals. On the basis of her color, Emma Lou is made to feel unattractive and unlovable, both as a child and as a young woman at college. In New York, because of her appearance, she is refused employment. In order to prove that she is desirable to men, Emma Lou sacrifices herself for a worthless man to whom she is attracted only because her society has convinced her that light skin is equivalent to real worth. Moreover, as her grandmother cruelly but accurately tells Emma Lou, her gender makes her situation even worse. In choosing their wives, the best-educated, most successful African American men will choose the lightest-skinned women, and Emma Lou will have to take what she can get.

In his characterization of Emma Lou, however, Thurman has broadened his theme. While he has no sympathy with color prejudice or with the gender discrimination associated with it, he obviously...

(The entire section contains 1156 words.)

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