Form and Content
Claude Brown begins Manchild in the Promised Land with himself (Sonny) at the age of thirteen, shot on the streets of Harlem for stealing sheets from a clothesline. The autobiography then retraces Brown’s life from the age of eight up to the shooting and goes on to chronicle his stays in the Warwick Reform School and his eventual escape from the street life of Harlem. A gang member at the age of nine, Brown was sent at eleven to the Wiltwyck School for Boys, returned to the streets, was shot, was sent to the reformatory and then gradually moved from Harlem as he earned his high-school diploma, became a jazz pianist in Greenwich Village, and ultimately began college.
The autobiography is introduced with a foreword in which Brown claims the book to be the story of “the first Northern urban generation of Negroes.” From Brown’s point of view, the autobiography is the story not only of his life but also of the children of a generation that came from the South with hopes for a promised land of jobs and opportunity and instead found itself in frightening urban ghettoes. The parents of Brown and his friends attempted to maintain values and habits learned in the rural South and were baffled by the complexities of a new world. With parents and children inhabiting different mental worlds, family ties were severed and mutual respect was often lost. The children became rootless. At one point, Claude, expelled from school, was sent to the South and...
(The entire section is 440 words.)