Claude Brown Nat Hentoff - Essay

Nat Hentoff

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are strengths in Manchild in the Promised Land, and for some there will be more basic discoveries than the guided tour of violence, junk, hookers and "correctional" waystops….

The mobile, vivid portraits in Manchild range through all kinds of cats, beautiful and lost. Mostly lost. Friends die of an overdose or take up residence in jail; girls Brown went to school with turn tricks on street corners to feed the habit; his younger brother becomes a junkie and then goes up on an armed robbery conviction (though he does get his high school diploma in jail).

As a chronicler of those years of violence and then of "the plague" (heroin), Brown is expert if often repetitious. (A hundred less pages would have made for a much tauter book.) As an analyzer of himself, he is less penetrating. He tells us of his decision at 17 to leave Harlem for a time and return to school. He tells us of his realization that he didn't have to go to jail, that he could be free of the quicksand. But the process by which that recognition was won is glossed over. In that respect, what should have been the core of his resurrection is hardly explored at all.

Brown, furthermore, hits at only the surface of those social forces that maintain the ghetto. When a judge gives him another chance, he tells him, "Man, you not givin' us another chance. You givin' us the same chance we had before."…

Yet...

(The entire section is 500 words.)