Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fisher. Show all posts

05 February, 2012

Rudolph Fisher, "High Yaller"

"High Yaller" is a story about passing, blacks passing for whites and the attendant problems, not being accepted by either group and the threats of violence. Evelyn Brown said, "Jay, if only I were one thing or the other! You can't imagine--"
and "Jay, can you imagine what it's like to be colored and look white?"

Fisher has a great way of describing place, space and sound. The sense of place in "High Yaller" is wonderful and documents Harlem in the 1920s.

The issues of hue of skin and drops of blood determining the group to which you belong have always been interesting to me and "High Yaller" confronts those. The story was written in 1925 and provides insight to the climate in Harlem and the United States.

Favorite Line:
"There was a thick atmosphere of suppression, a sense of unspoken fears and half-drawn breaths and whispers."

Wikipedia definition of "high yaller" definition of "ofay"
Wikipedia biography of Fisher
first page of a scholarly article in JStor

03 February, 2012

Rudolph Fisher, "The City of Refuge"

I enjoyed reading "The City of Refuge" in preparation for Dr. West's presentation next week at the South Branch Library.

King Solomon Gillis travels to Harlem from North Carolina because he accidentally killed a white man and was facing  lynching. However, once he arrives in New York, he's duped into participating in a drug scheme.

The two opening paragraphs are great in the way the language mimics the cacophony of a busy New York train station. Gillis emerges from the subway at 135th and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. [Interestingly, the current location for the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture is at that intersection.] It's as though he's traveled underground (in a sense he has) and now emerges into the light of a better place. It's as if he is "Jonah merging from the whale."

King Solomon Gillis is immediately struck by the fact that there is a "cullud" policeman directing white drivers. And, although Gillis seems naive, he's just not worldly yet but we get the sense that he's going to be wise with the ways of the city in no time at all. [I noticed in a later edition cullud was replaced with colored.]

In the end, though, he's arrested but because one of the policemen is black, Gillis seems in awe. Mistakenly, the cops thought Gillis was trying to escape but he was attempting to save the virtue of a woman who was being mistreated, or he thought she was.

Some of the motifs from Bible, apples as in the Garden of Eden, temptation; Mouse Uggams is a rat, also temptation or the devil; Jonah and the whale, Jonah resists and attempts to flee. I'm not very familiar with the biblical story but I wonder if "The City of Refuge" is basically a retelling of that story?

The story was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1925 and later published in a collection, The City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher, in 1987/1991 and reprinted in 2008.

Favorite lines:
"And there was occasional "colored" newspapers from New York: newspapers that mentioned Negroes without comment, but always spoke of a white person as "So-and so, white.."

"Black might be white, but it couldn't be that white!"

story online from National Humanities Center
Wikipedia biography of Fisher