Brown Bag Lecture series. . .
“A Change Gon Come: The Plantation in Ernest J. Gaines's Bloodline”
Presented by Regina Barnett, second-year MA student in AAADS
Sept. 12, 2007
Second-year MA student Regina Barnett kicked off the new season of Second Wednesday Brown Bag Lectures with a look at Ernest Gaines's view of black manhood as shaped by the plantation life depicted in Bloodline, a volume of short stories named after a particular one of the included stories. Barnett focused on the short story "Bloodline," but referred frequently to other stories in the collection.
According to Barnett, Gaines uses the plantation setting often in his stories as the background for defining black manhood in a white social structure. There he allows the battle between secular and spiritual definitions of manhood to play out. "Gaines does not pretend to have all the answers," said Barnett, "but he does explore the issues." (Barnett named August Wilson as another writer who does so in a similar fashion. She also noted that both Wilson and Gaines were not activists in the Black Power or Black Arts movements, saying that the question then is, how to include their Southern contributions in those predominantly urban and Northern movements.)
Gaines told his stories through the perspective of Southern culture, said Barnett, showing how change would have to come to that long-powerful white bastion. In "Bloodline," the black nephew of the aging white plantation owner returns to "claim his birthright." The young man, Copper, is positioned in opposition to the traditional ways of those who live and work on the plantation. "Gaines looks at the oppressive system," noted Barnett, "as well as the relationships within it." That an African American relative can claim a birthright as the heir of his white uncle is a change that the reader understands will come. The manhood displayed by Copper in staking his claim best demonstrates that change.
Barnett gave some of the attributes of manhood, as seen in the stories in Bloodline, as emotional stability, active independence, lack of dependence on whites for deliverance, and defiance of white expectations of dependence. In particular, the constant struggle between being young and black and managing the expectations laid on African American males, she said, is addressed by Gaines in these stories.
Even as manhood is dealt with, women in the stories are secondary characters. Yet, Gaines introduces the ambiguously gendered character of Hattie in "Three Men" to demonstrate that even a "feminine" man can exhibit manhood as defined throughout Bloodline.