(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The other extreme of contemporary black life is shown in Linden Hills, set in an affluent black suburb. In contrast to Brewster Place, Linden Hills is dominated by men, most notably by undertaker Luther Nedeed. Luther’s ancestors settled and laid out Linden Hills, and now Luther controls it through the Tupelo Realty Corporation and his personal influence. The suburb’s name, like its allure, is deceptive: Linden Hills is actually not several hills but only part of one hillside—a large, V-shaped area intersected by eight streets that curve around and down the slope. The further down the hillside one goes, the richer the residents become; in other words, the higher they climb in the socioeconomic hierarchy, the lower they sink in the moral order. Luther Nedeed’s home is at the very bottom, conveniently next to the graveyard.

Naylor’s symbolism seems to echo D. H. Lawrence’s sentiment that America is a death society. The fact that an undertaker presides over Linden Hills throws a certain pall over the suburb, but even more unsettling is the suburb’s street plan, which recalls the geography of Dante’s Hell. Two young unemployed poets, Lester and Willie (corresponding to Vergil and Dante), are introduced. Under the guise of earning some Christmas money by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, the young poets lead the reader on a guided tour of Linden Hills. The broad parallels to Dante’s Inferno in La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802) make it abundantly clear that Linden Hills is an allegory of the lost souls of affluent black people.

As the young poets move down the hillside,...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Linden Hills Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Linden Hills explores the lives of affluent African Americans who have attained the American Dream of material success, but at the expense of humanistic values. Luther Nedeed is the owner of the Tupelo Realty Company, which holds the mortgages and leases on all the homes in Linden Hills, and is the undertaker for the African American community. He lives at the bottom of the hill. The most affluent families live at the bottom of the hill, while the less affluent live at the top.

The novel begins with an introductory chapter and is then divided into sections identified by date, from December 19 to December 24. The first chapter explains the history of the Nedeed family. Luther Nedeed, an ancestor of the current character, bought Linden Hills from its white owners during the antebellum period. It was offered for sale because the white owners considered the hills unsuitable for farming. Realizing that the bottom of the hill bordered the cemetery, Nedeed became an undertaker. He built shacks on the hills and rented them to local black families. He then went to Mississippi and brought back an octoroon wife, Luwana Packerville, who produced a son who grew up to inherit his father’s name, looks, and business. To keep the government from taking his land, the second Nedeed sold the land cheaply to the people already living there, on a lease of a thousand years and a day. The lease also provided that they pass their property to their children or sell it only to other black families.

The first chapter also examines the circumstances of the present Luther Nedeed’s marriage and the birth of a light-skinned son who does not look like him or his male ancestors. This child causes Luther to suspect his wife, Willa, of adultery and to lock her in the basement, along with the child.

The first dated section, for December 19, chronicles the relationship of Willie K. Mason and Lester Tilson. It also introduces Ruth, who has rejected residency in Linden Hills. Ruth remains married to Norman despite the fact that he loses his mind once a year with an attack of “the pinks.” In this chapter, Willie and Lester first hear the mournful screams of Willa Nedeed.

In the December 20 section, Willa’s son dies. She begins to will herself to die until, while looking...

(The entire section is 937 words.)

Linden Hills Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Two journeys are at the heart of Linden Hills. The first is that of Willie Mason, living from hand to mouth, who fears becoming a forty-year-old grocery-bagger. He wonders whether he has made a mistake and should follow the dream of material success. He welcomes a suggestion that he and Lester Tilson seek holiday jobs in Linden Hills, even though an ominous cry from the Hills chills him. What he finds there convinces him that he is doing the right thing, that in the Hills the wrong dream is followed.

At Lester’s home, Willie learns that Mrs. Tilson’s desire for money drove her husband to work two jobs until he died from a heart attack. Willie perceives the ill feeling within the Tilson home and recognizes Lester’s hypocrisy when he mocks his sister.

The next day, they find work at the wedding reception of Winston Alcott, who marries a woman he does not love because marriage is what Luther Nedeed and Linden Hills expect. Only Willie recognizes that Winston’s best man is also his former lover. Later, Willie stares at a centerfold of a black nude and is appalled because he sees exploitation, not sex, in the chains against which she struggles. Another man calls this photo an example of progress for African Americans: “Today Penthouse . . . tomorrow the world.”

At the home of a nervous widower, Willie and Lester are spirited upstairs to prepare the dead wife’s room for a new bride; at the same time, a wake is held downstairs at which the guests discuss the danger of a proposed low-income housing development too close to Linden Hills. Only Willie seems to understand the ghastly funeral dinner, at which guests devour “brown and bloody meat” that seems to represent the lives of the less fortunate.

Hired to deliver supplies to the church where the dead woman will be buried, Willie realizes that the Reverend Hollis, a man whom he has admired for years, is an alcoholic and a liar. After the funeral,...

(The entire section is 806 words.)