Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
When Manchild in the Promised Land appeared in 1965, it was hailed as a continuation of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. Its bold use of black dialect, realistic portrayal of the ghetto experience, and searing social criticism attracted critics and readers who were ready for a close look at some of the racial issues that were heating up the political scene of 1960’s America. In this regard, Brown’s voice had found its proper time. A few critics pointed out that the novel did not offer a didactic scheme for black salvation; the book did not, in effect, provide the road map out of the ghetto. Brown responded to this observation by stating that it was never his purpose to illustrate the exact source of Sonny’s salvation, which, perhaps, remained a mystery to the author himself.
Manchild in the Promised Land has remained Brown’s strongest and most widely read work. His second novel, The Children of Ham (1976), was generally poorly received by critics, who noted its sensationalism and an absence of the warmth and humanity so central to the earlier novel. Manchild in the Promised Land, however, continues to hold its place in the African American literary canon as one of the first works to portray accurately and honestly the black struggle against a hostile environment and social system.