Julia (Mood) Peterkin The New York Times Book Review - Essay

The New York Times Book Review

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mrs. Peterkin of South Carolina is one of the first to write a book unaffectedly about negroes, without conscious or uncon-scious belittling mockery in view of superior white advancement.

"Green Thursday" is a collection of short narratives—sketches almost, so slight is the thread of action—dealing with the vicissitudes of the family of a negro husbandman on a small South Carolina farm. With sincerity, simplicity, delicacy and sympathy the author reveals glimpses of the life of Kildee, his wife Rose, his children, the little maid-servant …, and the life of the negro community…. [A] constant thread of toil emerges in Kildee's manful struggle with the soil. There are broad splashes of color; a house that burns, the time that Baby Rose is burned to death, the time the red rooster picks out the eye of another child. Tragedies conceived of simple elements, yet poignant and deep as nature itself. Dialect, thought, action is perfectly convincing and charming. Nothing is hidden—anti-kink lotion, outlandish costumes, superstition, emotion, poverty, ignorance, seasoned with fragments of negro lore as sound and earthy as the loam from which they spring.

The book is neither a novel nor a series of short stories. They are brief descriptive pieces that might answer to the description of sketches were it not for the fact that together they form an integral whole that paints a picture of negro peasant life in the South, as exemplified on one small farm in one small community. Mrs. Peterkin has shown herself in "Green Thursday" as a literary artist, without any prejudice except the saving artistic predilection for unity and coherent form. Into the mold of the graceful form she has chosen she pours the distillation of a rich, human observation of the secret life of a people who have not yet been understood by the whites, because the whites have always found it easier to laugh at it than to attempt to comprehend it.

"Again a Serious Study of Negroes in Fiction: 'Green Thursday'," in The New York Times Book Review, September 28, 1924, p. 8.