That Dunbar Boy Critical Context - Essay

Jean Gould

Critical Context

The term “Negro” in the subtitle of this work is one sign that Gould’s That Dunbar Boy is outdated. In addition, the author’s failure to tackle questions of race and artistic independence forcefully makes this biography a bit timid. Nevertheless, Gould’s biography is a readable and enjoyable piece of work. In spite of all that it is lacking, That Dunbar Boy offers a sensitive and human portrait of a young African-American artist. This biography should inspire young readers to use their imaginations and follow their dreams. Gould presents them with the work and life of an interesting African-American poet.

If one is to see Dunbar as an example, as Gould suggests, then perhaps the poet should be remembered as an individual who fought for racial equality and freedom. In his poem “Ode to Ethiopia,” Dunbar wrote:

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul;Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll  In characters of fire.High ’mid the clouds of Fame’s bright skyThy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,  And truth shall lift them higher.

The lesson that one can fight without guns or violence, instead employing words to do battle, is an important one. This biography brings that lesson to young readers.