There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden is an experimental novel depicting the growth and development of Nathaniel Witherspoon. Narrated from a central image of Nathaniel Witherspoon riding in a Cadillac with Aunty Breedlove to his mother’s funeral, the novel ranges in time. His mother’s death in the late 1950’s, while Nathan is a teenager, ignites a personal search for meaning in life and leads him to a deeper understanding of his African American family and consciousness.
The novel consists of six chapters: “The Lives,” “The Nightmare,” “The Dream,” “The Vision,” “Wakefulness,” and “Transformation.” It uses various narrative devices such as sermons, letters, poetic monologues, and dialogues to tell the story. For example, “The Lives” depicts the partial biographies of the main fictional characters as well as giving thumbnail sketches of historical figures such as Louis Armstrong, Abraham Lincoln, and Harriet Tubman. Within this section, some of the characters speak to Nathaniel, telling their stories in stream-of-consciousness prose. The last chapter contains a long letter to President Lyndon Baines Johnson by Nathaniel’s grandmother, Sweetie Reed. With the help of Nathaniel, who types out her long-winded oration, Sweetie outlines poignantly the progress of her people while indicting the American government for its injustices to the black race. The final section of the novel contains a sermon concerning Martin...
(The entire section is 594 words.)