Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Like Richard Wright (in the autobiography Black Boy, 1945) and James Baldwin (in the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son, 1955, and Nobody Knows My Name, 1961) before him, John Edgar Wideman issues a wake-up call to America about race and racism. Wideman also writes about the sons who have been abandoned along the road of American progress and emphasizes both the responsibilities of fathers for their children and the responsibility of the culture for the deterioration of paternal relationships. Wideman’s book contains important messages about fathers and sons, identity, and relationships.

In many ways, Wideman may remind readers of other contemporary African American writers, such as Alice Walker or Toni Morrison. Walker’s rendering of the South The Color Purple (1982) resemble’s Wideman’s representation, and Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977) portrays a son searching for his father’s roots in Virginia. Fatheralong also rings with the reverberations of works by male writers, including Philip Roth’s Patrimony (1991), Richard Rodriguez’s Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father (1992), and Robert Bly’s Iron John: A Book about Men (1990). All are part of an emergent literary consciousness of male roles and gender history. Like Alex Haley’s Roots (1976), finally, Fatheralong is about African Americans reclaiming their history and, by telling it, gaining the higher ground above the shackles of racial ideology.