(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

God Bless the Child is the tragic story of the short life of Rosie Fleming, who chases a false dream and dies in pursuit of it. The narrative begins when Rosie is seven years old. Readers soon learn of the early influences that indelibly shape the impressionable mind of young Rosie. The first is Rosie’s father, who has already abandoned the family when the novel opens. That event has led Rosie to believe she is unlovable. This initial seed of insecurity is inadvertently fed by Queenie, whose attempts to make Rosie independent are interpreted by Rosie as further evidence of her own inadequacy. Lourinda, the self-absorbed grandmother who idolizes the white world in which she vicariously lives as a servant, is responsible, however, for strengthening and bringing to fruition the self-hate growing within Rosie. The seemingly harmless reveries in which Lourinda regularly indulges about the lives and possessions of her white employers further diminish Rosie’s chance to find the nurturing she needs. Unlike her golden-skinned mother and pale grandmother, Rosie is as dark-skinned as her father, a man Lourinda describes as “no count” and “black as tar.” Not only is Rosie not white, she is impossibly black, impossibly removed from the full affection Lourinda reserves for her white employers.

Despite her problems, Rosie is a precocious and shrewd child. She knowingly negotiates The Avenue, a neighborhood street populated by derelicts, drunks, and members of the criminal underworld. At only seven years old, Rosie seems to have no illusions about or apprehension of these adults or places, except an intuitive fear of a local pimp, Shadow.

Further insight into Rosie’s emerging character is gained when the usually truant Rosie encounters schoolmate Dolly Diaz, who is dutifully heading to school. From this chance meeting, two things become clear. First, Rosie has developed a strong contempt for proper or legitimate means of action. Second, Rosie has indeed developed a tough veneer, which she uses to scare away Dolly’s tormentors. In school Rosie is smart, despite her regular truancy.


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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Buckmaster, Henrietta. “The Girl Who Wanted Out.” The Christian Science Monitor, September 10, 1964, 7. Praises the novel despite what Buckmaster sees as flaws in length and pace. She considers God Bless the Child further insight for white readers into the African American experience.

Kelley, Mary E. Review of God Bless the Child, by Kristin Hunter. Library Journal 89 (September 15, 1964): 33-36. Kelley suggests that the novel is valuable as a guide to understanding interracial issues and is appealing, convincing, and moving but flawed by the author’s style.

Schraufnagel, Noel. “Accommodationism of the Sixties.” In From Apology to Protest: The Black American Novel. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1973. Views the 1960’s as a literary period that spawned the militant protest novel but that still provided many accommodationist novels, the characters of which acquiesce to convention and work within the system. To Schraufnagel, God Bless the Child is accommodationist because Rosie embraces white values to progress, even though her motives are more complex than acceptance of black exploitation.

Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983. Tate and the author discuss Hunter’s life and work. Hunter offers observations about the effect her own experiences have had on her writing and her views on social conditions.

Turner, Darwin T. Introduction to God Bless the Child, by Kristin Hunter. Washing-ton, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1986. Turner considers God Bless the Child a product of the social gains made in the decade prior to its publication, a period in which writers such as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry focused on the more personal aspects of oppression, an approach continued in Hunter’s novel.