Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Two Wings to Veil My Face was the last novel of three that Forrest devoted to the Witherspoon family saga. There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden (1973) and The Bloodworth Orphans (1977) complete the trilogy. These books contain many of the same characters and cover some of the same territory, particularly in the use of black vernacular and folk traditions such as music, language, and religion. Two Wings to Veil My Face is a supreme triumph of signifying experimentation, developing techniques initiated in the other two books.

The realistic social document of the text is amplified by use of poetic prose, imaginative episodes, and surrealistic description. The unusual verbal dexterity of Sweetie Reed is reflected in other characters’ voices. She is an outstanding example of the traditional strong black woman in African American history and literature.

Through the intimate and detailed exploration of one African American family, Forrest created a deeper understanding of the collective consciousness of the black race. In Two Wings to Veil My Face, he created a text that in itself demonstrates the strength of black cultural creations. The technique of the novel mimics other black cultural expressions such as jazz solos and extemporaneous language testifying. The text also evinces the influence of the modernist tradition, echoing James Joyce and William Faulkner. Surreal episodes suggest Ralph Ellison, while the exhaustive examination of character and motive have an almost Proustian elegance.

The fabulous quality of many of the passages bears a relation to the Magical Realism of Gabriel García Márquez. By logically extending real characters and situations through poetic prose, Forrest creates a fantastic landscape of dreamlike intensity. At the same time, he builds a magical universe of masquerade, madness, and collective transformation.

Like the two other novels in the series, Two Wings to Veil My Face uses the traditional folk methods of legend, tales, religion, and music. The Witherspoon family tree extends and makes relevant the past. It moves beyond historical fiction by bridging two worlds through the union of Sweetie Reed and her grandson Nathaniel. By skillfully combining the fragments of the narrative, Nathan re-creates his past and remakes himself.