The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism

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Oxford University Press, Dec 14, 1989 - Literary Criticism - 320 pages
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The Signifying Monkey is the first book of literary criticism to trace the roots of contemporary Black literature to Afro-American folklore and to the traditions of African languages. As the author examines the ancient poetry of the Ifa Oracle (found in Nigeria, Benin, Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti), he uncovers the origins of a sacred system of divination, brought to America by black slaves who felt it to be the very "heart-beat" of their souls. Gates demonstrates how a heroic and popular character called the Signifying Monkey emerged from this divination and came to pervade Afro-American culture. In providing masterful readings of literary works by Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, and Ishmael Reed--and in defining how the works of these authors "signify upon" each other--the author delivers a powerful and ground-breaking work of critical theory. Many previously unpublished tales about the Monkey, as well as those already published, are collected in a detailed appendix.
 

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Contents

A Theory of the Tradition
1
Reading the Tradition
125
Notes
259

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About the author (1989)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is Chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies and W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of Figures in Black, Loose Canons, and Colored People; general editor of The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers; and general editor of The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute series.

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