Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Charles Johnson's The Oxherding Tale is a novel about navigating a life between two different worlds. Johnson is known for writing stories about issues in Black America. According to information on goodreads.com, this particular novel received mixed reviews because some of the humor was missed by readers. The main character of this novel, Andrew Hawkins, must learn to find his place between the white world and the black world, between slavery and freedom.
This novel takes place in the south. Andrew Hawkins is born as a slave living on a cotton plantation. His birth is interesting because he is the offspring of the the wife of the plantation owner, Jonathan Polkinghorne, and Polkinghorne's butler. Andrew is a very intelligent young man. The first portion of this novel is about Andrew's life on the plantation and is told mostly through flashbacks. In part one, readers learn of Andrew's love interest, a seamstress named Minty. Andrew is also sent to work on a different farm, Hatfield Farm. While spending time at this farm, Andrew is unable to pursue Minty because he is spending time with an older woman who happens to be the owner of the farm, Flo Hatfield. After an incident with Flo, Andrew poses as a white man and escapes from Hatfield Farm.
The second part of this novel is about Andrew's life living in the white world. Andrew suffers from an opium addiction, unwanted marriages, and the discovery of friends being sold as slaves. When Andrew finds Minty being sold at an auction, he purchases her and realizes that she is very sick. Minty soon dies, and Andrew is devastated.
Throughout the novel, Andrew must learn from a variety of people in order to become complete as a person. Andrew, through author Johnson, offers a new type of "slave narrative" that is engaging to readers. This story is Andrew's journey from birth to adulthood and his search for his own identity in a world that is often complicated.