Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Southern town

Southern town. The unnamed southern town is supposed to represent a typical place in the South following the Civil War. While from appearances things appear to be looking up for former slaves remaining in the South, Dunbar shows that once the veneer of gentility and goodwill lifted, the South was the same wretched place it had always been, so far as its black citizens were concerned.

Hamilton cottage

Hamilton cottage. Home of the Hamilton family in the yard of the Oakley family mansion; a play on words that reflects the facade of improved conditions for African Americans. The Hamiltons’ “cottage” is a former slave cabin, but as the means and status of the Hamiltons seem to improve, so the cabin takes on a new appearance of its own and becomes a “bower of peace and comfort,” furnished mostly with discarded items from the Oakley mansion. Indeed, its edenic appearance is further exemplified by the many blooming flowers in its yard and the profusion of morning glories and Virginia creeper that hang over the entranceway. Also, Berry Hamilton, his wife Fannie, and his children Joe and Kitty appear to have garnered for themselves a life of freedom and high standing. Not only are they gainfully employed, but they have both the time and means for a full complement of social and cultural activities, and they seem to be living quite well in the South that only a few decades earlier was plagued by the evils of slavery. However, Dunbar holds this myth up to ridicule once Berry is wrongly accused of theft of money from the Oakley mansion. Not only does his employer turn against Berry Hamilton, but so do the others of the town, white...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Best, Felton O. “Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Protest Literature: The Final Years.” The Western Journal of Black Studies 17 (Spring, 1993): 54-64. Argues that Dunbar used plantation settings to help counteract the plantation myth that was prevalent at the turn of the century. Also argues that Dunbar was more active in the protest movement than some critics have given him credit for being.

Candela, Gregory L. “We Wear the Mask: Irony in Dunbar’s The Sport of the Gods. ” American Literature 48 (1976): 60-72. An important reassessment of the novel, placing it in the tradition of protest literature. Candela argues that Dunbar’s use of irony undercuts his occasional resort to stereotypes.

Gayle, Addison, Jr. Oak and Ivy: A Biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A critical biography that deals equally with Dunbar’s life and works. Gayle writes extensively of the tragic results of Dunbar’s efforts to free his work from racial stereotypes while dealing with powerful white publishing firms.

Larson, Charles R. “The Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar.” Phylon 29 (Fall, 1968): 257-271. An essay that places all of Dunbar’s novels in a critical context. Places The Sport of the Gods in the category of protest novel.

Revell, Peter. Paul Laurence Dunbar. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Part of the Twayne series on American writers, this critical biography covers all of Dunbar’s poetic and fictional works. Revell emphasizes the naturalistic elements of Dunbar’s fiction and discusses Dunbar’s work in relation to French naturalism. Revell states that The Sport of the Gods is Dunbar’s most successful novel and places it at the center of the African American tradition of novel writing.

Von Rosk, Nancy. “Coon Shows, Ragtime, and the Blues: Race, Urban Culture, and the Naturalist Vision in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Sport of the Gods. ” In Twisted from the Ordinary: Essays on American Literary Naturalism, edited by Mary E. Papke. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003. Elucidates the relationship between African American cultural traditions and literary naturalism in Dunbar’s text.