Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden is the first novel of three that Forrest devoted to the Witherspoon family saga. The Bloodworth Orphans (1977) and Two Wings to Veil My Face (1983) contain many of the same characters introduced in the first novel. Critics have generally praised this ambitious undertaking and lauded Forrest for his innovative use of poetic language and image. They recognize that the experimental nature of these novels is primarily focused on creating a verbal music that leads to a deeper understanding of the collective consciousness of the black race. The oral testimony of the books comes from both religious and secular sources. The expressive force of the narratives has been compared to jazz in its creative reworking of common meters. At the core of each novel lies Nathaniel Witherspoon’s search for a new spiritual identity.

Many critics suggest that Forrest was influenced by white writers such as James Joyce and William Faulkner and black writers such as Jean Toomer and Ralph Ellison. Forrest’s creation of Forest County, a mythical landscape, is suggestive of Faulkner, while his expressive language and imagery connect with Ellison. Other critics also recognize the influence of Carl Jung’s psychological theories of the collective unconscious and archetypal images. Many of the images of the novel have a biblical cast to them, suggesting a deep spiritual battle waged within the text concerning the...

(The entire section is 414 words.)