Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson

I know that in writing the following pages I am divulging the great secret of my life, the secret which for some years I have guarded far more carefully than any of my earthly possessions; and it is a curious study to me to analyze the motives which prompt me to do it.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is an interesting portrayal of what it's like to be black in the early 1900s. Purportedly an "autobiography", it is the story of an intelligent young man who "ignores the best in himself." He gets his money stolen and doesn't go to college, though he's extremely talented musically. The book tells of his life, from the craps tables of New York, to high society in Europe with his "millionaire" friend. I picked this one up on a whim, and really liked it.

Though extremely short, the edition I read had small font, and it is a bit difficult to get through. However, it offers some interesting insights. I particularly liked the earlier sections of the book. The narrator (who, as far as I could tell, is unnamed) is really the only main character. The other people in the story come and go; no one sticks around for very long. The narrator describes things with intelligent language and acute perception. The writing style is dense, yes, but also rewarding. The "race question" is discussed a lot; I particularly liked the scene on the train where the Texan and the Yankee soldier are debating. I can really see both sides of the argument (even the Texan's, a little bit).

When I say it's set in the 1900s, I think it is, because the book itself makes no mention of the time period specifically, except that it's after the Civil War. The book, however, was published in 1912.

There are some interesting character studies in this book too. The millionaire friend, the porter, his mother, "Red", "Shiny", etc, are all well drawn and developed.

I'd never heard of this book before, and I'm glad that I read it. I might try reading more of James Weldon Johnson's work in the future.

154 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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