Summary and Analysis
Returning to the themes of Chapters 1 and 6, Angelou cross-examines her own attitudes toward Southern black behavior, particularly the penchant for religiosity. Puzzled by the willingness of bone-weary field hands to settle for leftover food so that they will have time to attend late night revival meetings, she attributes their choice to masochism and notes, ". . . not only was it our fate to live the poorest, roughest life but that we liked it like that." Her portrait of the "transitory setting" of tent evangelism is a faithful rendering of a Southern tradition: the impermanence of folding chairs, two by fours holding up makeshift strings of lights, and canvas walls undulating with the breeze.
Angelou, ever watchful for a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, milks the scene for its undercurrent of pubescent coming-of-age rites and small-town snobbery, where the high-toned denizens of Mount Zion Baptist Church contrast with the more cerebral African Methodist Episcopal and their counterparts in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and the proletarian Christian Methodist Episcopal church. On the outskirts of Christian respectability lurk the fervid Holy Rollers, who spare no exertions as they "make a joyful noise." She swiftly segues into the soulful give-and-take of minister with congregation, the singing of a dolorous hymn, scripture readings, and a lengthy harangue encouraging charity. To Stamps' poorest, whom Angelou dubs "society's pariahs" and "America's historic bowers and scrapers," the minister's welcome prophecy indicates that uncharitable whites will "get their comeuppance," a sweet revenge for a protracted history of injustice. The catharsis wrought by spiritual surrender spreads like contagion, concluding in a reception for repentent sinners and a maudlin coda of mothers crooning a reminder that they have limited time to see their children safely locked into the Christian fold. Smug and self-righteous in their salvation, the elect walk home amid bluesy tunes from a local roadhouse, which provides a cheery alternative to tent revival escapism.
In Chapter 19, still probing the theme of deliverance, Angelou shifts the setting from the cool night air to the packed intensity of bodies crouched over the store radio to hear a broadcast of a crucial prize fight. Local blacks, identifying so intensely with Joe Louis that they become one with him through ups and downs of the bout, interpret his trials in the same category with lynchings, beatings, and pursuit by hounds. The scene not only depicts the culture of the radio era, but also explains and justifies African-American hero worship of black athletes.
Raise up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it a paraphrase of Proverbs 22:6.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and be exceedingly glad an amalgam of Psalm 100:1 with Matthew 5:12.
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" hymn which is a standard feature of fundamentalist revival services because of its crooning, mournful melody, melodramatic images, and gentle harmonies.
C.M.E. Church Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
Matthew: twenty-fifth chapter, thirtieth verse through the forty-sixth one of Jesus' sermons in which he reminds the faithful that he will return from a heavenly throne to question people about their charity toward "the least of these" — that is, the hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, and imprisoned.
First Corinthians a loose rendering of I Corinthians 13:1, 3, which encourages charity in that great
Gettin' Up Morning a Negro spiritual that describes resurrection in idiomatic terms separate the sheep (them) from the goats (the whitefolks) a reference to an image in Matthew 25:32 which pictures the separation of the saved from the unsaved as the action of a shepherd dividing sheep from goats, which are known to be quarrelsome with more peaceable animals.
now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity I Corinthians 13:13, the conclusion of Paul's essay on charity.
John Brown American abolitionist who was hanged in 1859 for leading a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.
He who can hear, let him hear an altered version of Ezekiel 3:27.
before one word of this changes, heaven and earth shall fall away a paraphrase of Jesus' promise in Matthew 5:18.
barrelhouse blues a pulsing, unmelodious jazz beat.
How long, oh God? How long? a plea often heard in spirituals, possibly having its roots in Psalms 13:1 and Isaiah 6:11. George Bernard Shaw ends his drama Saint Joan with Joan asking, "How long, O Lord, how long?"
cracker a disparaging, derogatory slang term for a white, bigoted, violent Southerner.
string-along songs about razor blades Radio prize-fight broadcasts were sponsored by Gillette.
Louis World heavyweight champion from 1937-49, Joe Louis (1914-81), nicknamed the "Brown Bomber,"racked up a record of sixty-eight victories in seventy-one fights.
master's voice part of a slogan affixed to RCA Victor radios and phonographs along with a picture of a dog listening to sounds coming from the horn of a victrola.
Carnera Primo Carnera, whom Joe Louis defeated on June 25, 1935.