Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
Manchild in the Promised Land, which was written while Brown was still in his twenties, was for most people in the 1960’s the first direct and detailed look at urban African-American life. At a time when the Civil Rights movement was coming to public attention, Brown provided a portrait of the humanity of individual African Americans caught in a devouring social system from which only a few could escape. Without political rhetoric or ideological axes to grind, Brown powerfully told his own story and that of his generation and allowed those outside the urban ghetto to see its terrors in specific human, rather than abstract, terms.
Even while focusing on individuals, however, Brown connected the plight of the Harlem streets to larger historical movements. Claude’s parents, and the parents of many of his friends, had come to the North to search for opportunities in what they hoped would be a less racist and stifling environment. Doing so separated them from their roots, however, and they could give no direction to their children because they had little understanding of the new society in which they found themselves. Thus, racism in both the South and the North, and the attempt to escape it, created the world that Brown describes. Beyond its social implications, Manchild in the Promised Land takes its place with those biographies and autobiographies of men and women who triumphed over adversity and succeeded against all odds. It serves to show that the individual can survive and prevail.