Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tales, Amiri Baraka’s only published collection of short fiction, was published in 1967, two years after he left his white Jewish wife and his bohemian existence in Greenwich Village, a move precipitated by the assassination of Malcolm X. In 1966, the year of his return to his hometown of Newark, Baraka says in an essay collection titled Home: Social Essays (1986), “I have been a lot of places in my time, and done a lot of things. . . . But one truth anyone reading these pieces ought to get is the sense of movement—the struggle, in myself, to understand where and who I am and to move with that understanding. . . . And these moves, most times unconscious . . . seem to me to have been always toward the thing I had coming into the world, with no sweat: my blackness.”

It is not easy to maintain this sense of ethnic identity in the face of middle-class pressures, however, and the struggle to move toward it is a major theme in “The Screamers.” The narrator and his camp must fight Baraka’s fight because what should be natural has been distorted by the influence of white values and the resulting self-hatred that African Americans often feel.

This self-hatred is amply illustrated in the kinds of “girls” for whom the men search. The white girl, disgraced and with “halting speech, a humanity as paltry as her cotton dress,” nevertheless has a line of men behind her, “stroking their erections, hoping for a picture to take down south,” where those left behind will be impressed by the whiteness.

The narrator realizes that the men are also being judged by white standards of beauty when a light-skinned African American girl will not dance with...

(The entire section is 698 words.)