Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 302

This novel follows a group of young, black artists and writers during the Harlem Renaissance. The protagonist is Raymond Taylor, a writer who probably has the most talent of anyone in the group. These individuals struggle with their racial identity and whether to pursue art that foregrounds their identity or...

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This novel follows a group of young, black artists and writers during the Harlem Renaissance. The protagonist is Raymond Taylor, a writer who probably has the most talent of anyone in the group. These individuals struggle with their racial identity and whether to pursue art that foregrounds their identity or avoids it. In order to achieve racial equality, is it better to draw attention to one's race, its struggles and its triumphs, or to ignore race altogether and simply try to produce good art? What to do when the white majority demands art that foregrounds one's race and will not support art that does not take race as its subject? Protest or submit? These are the kinds of questions with which Ray, Paul Arbian, Eustace Savoy, and Pelham Gaylord grapple.

In addition, Ray's relationships with Samuel Carter, a white man who tries to be a black ally (though is clearly still a racist), and Stephen Jorgenson, a Dane, who comes to visit and eventually moves in with Ray, muddy the waters further. The group throws wild, drunken parties, producing relatively little art at all, and eventually their relationships begin to break down, especially with the addition of several women—both black and white. One party goes too far and effectively severs the friendship between Ray and Stephen and alienates Sam forever; an accusation of rape removes Pelham from the scene entirely; and their landlord, who had once been interested in furthering the black art scene in Harlem, decides that money is the only way to achieve racial equality and evicts everyone else. In the end, Paul takes his own life in an attempt to create one final piece of art, but it fails because the bath in which he slits his wrists overflows and washes away the penciled writing on his pages.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649

Infants of the Spring is a satire of the temper and of the major and minor figures of the Harlem Renaissance. As such, the novel details a number of artists and their struggles to be faithful to their artistic visions, along with their knowledge that what they produce has consequences for African Americans as a group. Efforts to maintain artistic integrity while promoting social causes produce individuals who are often culturally confused and display divided loyalties.

The characters who live at Niggeratti Manor, a fictional Harlem brownstone that has a real-life counterpart, are mainly younger artists trying to arrive on the literary, artistic, and music scenes. Many of them perceive a mission to produce a counter-movement to the ideology advocated by the Harlem Renaissance’s more notable and older members.

Raymond Taylor, the central consciousness, is one of the manor’s more talented writers and offers a running commentary on action at the manor. The plot of the novel moves forward when Raymond meets Stephen Jorgenson, a graduate student from Copenhagen, Denmark, who has come to New York to study for a Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Raymond and Stephen become instant friends. When they become roommates, the two are constantly together, so that when Raymond comments on what is happening at the manor, he and Stephen spend long hours discussing it. Moreover, Stephen is initially fascinated with black people, their culture, and their struggles for racial equality and artistic integrity. Soon, though, Stephen’s Scandinavian upbringing, coupled with an interest in Raymond that he cannot explain, causes him to judge the residents of the manor. He tires of their drunken escapades, their attacks on the missionary Samuel Carter, and their inability to get anything done. His talks with Raymond become tinctured with a veiled acidity that sours their relationship. Before this rupture in their friendship, a number of events take place at the manor that move the plot forward and showcase the odd cast of residents.

Paul Arbian constantly tries to shock people with overt discussion of his bisexual nature. He even brings to one of the parties a young man who, he promises, will disrobe for the crowd at a designated time.

Eustace Savoy, in his failure to accept his black musical heritage of Negro spirituals, disgusts Raymond, Stephen, Paul, and others. Most believe that his hatred of his culture and his desire to express European classical music is a symptom of what is wrong with the ideology of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance.

Pelham Gaylord, who has little talent as a portrait artist, is arrested for raping a teenage girl who lives on the third floor of the manor with her mother. His arrest brings a certain amount of scandal to the manor that Dr. Parkes (Thurman’s satirical treatment of Alain Locke) thinks is detrimental to what the older generation of black leaders has been trying to accomplish.

Dr. Parkes’s control over the Harlem Renaissance’s acceptable forms of creative expression is captured in a scene at the manor. Several recognized artists join the manor’s usual crew for a “distinguished salon,” with Dr. Parkes presiding. Dr. Parkes comments that African Americans’ future depends on what these artists create and how they carry themselves. Much dissenting discussion ensues. This and other similar events spell the demise of Niggeratti Manor, and it is not long before Euphoria Blake, the landlord, gives all the artists eviction notices. She concedes that her experiment has failed.

At the novel’s end, most of the manor residents have retreated from their earlier lofty and unrealistic goals of creating art that makes a difference. Paul Arbian, in his final effort to both shock and to create something new, commits suicide, with the pages of an experimental novel he has written all around his body. Only Raymond seems destined to create the kind of work the others had wanted to.

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