Paul Robeson: The Life and Times of a Free Black Man Critical Essays

Virginia Hamilton


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In her preface, Hamilton tells about the role model that Robeson became for young African Americans, especially for those who were artists. This discussion establishes much of the purpose of the book, a purpose that makes it an important biography for a young adult audience. The book portrays an individual who refused to abide by the rules forced upon him by a society prejudiced against him. In crafting this narrative, Hamilton has created images of one who stood against discrimination. Although he paid an enormous price for his stance, it is one that is both thoughtful and honorable.

Hamilton portrays Robeson as drawn little by little into the political world. Her approach suggests her enormous sympathy for this figure. She emphasizes his considerable stage skills, often referring to his deep, sonorous voice, and she supports her depiction of this side of Robeson with quotations from reputable reviews and news columns. More important, Hamilton emphasizes his courage as he dealt with the slights that surrounded him daily, particularly after his trip to the Soviet Union.

Hamilton condemns the government for its narrow-minded vision, even as she condemns American society at large for its repudiation of Robeson. If Hamilton seems clearly uninterested in presenting a balanced view of Robeson, then perhaps she might argue that she is furnishing a corrective biography. While the government is seen as almost reactionary, Robeson is depicted as liberal and tolerant. While the government is mean-spirited, Robeson is expansive. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between, but Hamilton has certainly...

(The entire section is 659 words.)