Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the foreword to The Chinaberry Tree, Fauset writes, “In the story of Aunt Sal, Laurentine, Melissa and the Chinaberry Tree I have depicted something of the home-life of the colored American who is not being pressed too hard by the Furies of Prejudice, Ignorance, and Economic Injustice. . . . He is not rich but he moves in a society which has its spheres and alignments as definitely as any society the world over.” Her novel in its overall architecture renders African American middle-and upper-class life. This focus provides the novel’s strength and its limitations.

Issues that plagued the majority of African Americans during the early twentieth century are not addressed in The Chinaberry Tree. Characters rarely encounter racism. When overt racial discrimination occurs, as it does when Laurentine and Stephen visit New York and are ill-treated at a restaurant, the narrator makes it clear that neither of the characters has had any real previous encounters with discrimination. Both Laurentine and Stephen quickly forget about the incident and, other than giving vent to a temporary expression of hurt and anger, do not make any real protest. This example of racism occurs outside Red Brook, which helps to underscore Fauset’s presentation of Red Brook itself as free of prejudice.

The rendering of middle-and upper-class black society is one of the novel’s major achievements. The novel demonstrates that a significant black...

(The entire section is 485 words.)