Julia (Mood) Peterkin John W. Crawford - Essay

John W. Crawford

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Black April"], concerning life among the negroes on an isolated South Carolina coastlands plantation, at first sight seems to fall into the category of the traditional modification of a picaresque novel—picaresque, that is, not only for its treatment of a man outside the ordinary laws, but for its structure of thinly connected episodes. Certainly the figure of black April, the foreman of Blue Brook plantation, who gives the book its title, is of the heroic, almost grandiose, mold of the legendary protagonists of fiction. Mrs. Peterkin's story flares with some of the incidents into a compellingly vivid intensity, too high-pitched to be sustained; succeeding passages all but falter into a complete break of the mood….

Mrs. Peterkin is treating of the darkies variously called "Gullah" or blue-gum, who inflect the English language as if it were a tribal dialect of Africa. While Mrs. Peterkin has not transcribed the speech of these negroes with … [scholarly accuracy], she has by no means distorted it to a purely literary artifice. What she has accomplished is a lucid, yet idiomatic, racy speech for the mouths of her negroes, retaining the full-bodied integrity of the original without divorcing it from the comprehension of those unfamiliar with the source….

There are, thus, three factors which might well contribute to an alienation of the reader's sympathies from Mrs. Peterkin's story. She is writing of negroes in a strange and special social mode of being, whose erotic impulses move freely and untrammeled within the customarily forbidden confines of consanguineal relationship, and whose speech is almost unknown outside the...

(The entire section is 686 words.)