(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.)


(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.)