For my last blog post of the semester, I usually reflect on the growth I’ve seen within myself. More specifically, how I’ve grown in terms of my writing skills, how I analyze information as a student, and how I learn to appreciate literary works as an individual. However, for this blog post, I have decided to write about the course concepts and the lessons I’ve learned from them. Our class on “African-American Literature” may focus on writing from a different cultural perspective, but I also appreciate how the coursework could be related to one another and we could circle back our conversations to work we’ve done earlier.
In class on Friday, we finished reading Big Machine and had our final discussion of the book. From my group’s discussion, we realized that the course concept of repetition is evident and all the literary works we discussed in this class connect somehow. Ideas tend to repeat themselves throughout history, and it just so happened that certain events are brought into the picture again to remind the people of the time of its impact. More specifically, we found LaValle strategically wrote this book the way he did to allow his audience to interpret the many lessons that come from this story.
The connection my group came up with happened towards the end of Big Machine when Ricky Rice loses his left hand and forearm in an explosion (LaValle, 347). Professor McCoy gave us our class a hint relating ‘Belgian’ to ‘murder.’ From this, people in my group looked up the vile history of Belgian colonization in the Congo territory. In the late 18th century, King Leopold II of Belgium occupied Congo and instilled terror and violence amongst its citizens that would last for well over a century. At this time, the economic rubber trade was drawing attention from major imperialistic countries, so the Congolese’s labor was exploited as a result of this. If someone didn’t carry out their work efficiently, limbs were cut off as a mark of shame and gruesome punishment. This moment in history is down-right sickening, but it led my group to connect literature from earlier class discussions that really pieced everything together.
A couple of months ago, we read The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race by Vachel Lindsay. When reading it the for the first time, it comes across as blatantly racist. After we applied historical context to the poem, we found out that the racist events that were described in the poem actually occurred. Not to say that LaValle specifically wrote about this incident, but some of the scenes from Big Machine could be alluding to historical events without upsetting the audience.
Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghostBurning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.Hear how the demons chuckle and yellCutting his hands off, down in Hell.
Ricky losing his left hand and forearm could be a reference to The Congo poem we’ve read earlier in the semester. Leopold’s ghost is referring to King Leopold suffering in damnation for his malicious acts, especially the unjust dismantling of innocent citizens during his reign of terror.
Even though my group came up with this theory about one of the many meanings behind Big Machine, that doesn’t mean that other works of literature that we’ve read in class can’t relate to LaValle’s real intention for writing this book. He could’ve been writing to remind people to be cautious of trusting institutions, or he could’ve simply just written for the sake of writing as a black science fiction author. Whatever the case may be, LaValle is a genius writer and I am glad that I was able to study his work in a space that deserves more attention from mainstream Western academia.
Not only am I proud to have taken a class that allows me to learn more about my culture, but I’m also glad that we didn’t just focus on past events in black history. Usually, when learning about black history, classrooms tend to focus more on slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and how racism is dead. Luckily, this class studied the ‘both/and’ versatility of a group of people and positive conservations were produced in this space. I learned that history repeats itself for better or worse, but by reading and appreciating literature from all aspects of black culture, the takeaway can be much more significant. And for that, I am grateful to have taken this class.