Sappho's Roles In The Negro Woman And The Negro Community

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Only when Sappho reintegrates herself into the community by claiming her family—returning to her son and marrying Will—does she personally gain. In this way, the novel does not completely foreclose individual interests, but certainly, in a time of intense racial and sexual violence, Hopkins advocates for the subordination of the individual for the protection and advancement of the racial group. At the same time, Sappho’s character arc illustrates that within Contending Forces and among African Americans, there must be allowance for acts of self-determination and identification without the disavowal of racial or social community. Sappho does this in two key ways that solidify her status as both the New (revised) Negro Woman and the historical…show more content…
The sewing circle is a matrifocal space of political and social engagement that serves as Hopkins’ fictionalization of the black women’s club movement (Patterson 72). Here, the women of Contending Forces gather together to raise money, discuss political concerns, and forge social coalitions. A blackboard occupies a central space in the parlor of Ma Smith’s boardinghouse, and upon it each woman has contributed some news or raised a concern pertaining to the community. The gathering and discussion of these women makes the circle fertile ground for Hopkins’ linking of race, class, and gender concerns through the figure of the New Negro Woman. This space, filled with female voices and domestic tasks, features several versions of womanhood. And like other communal spaces, Hopkins argues for the collaboration of each woman figure and the value of all expressions of womanhood when united under the collective goal of racial uplift. Mrs. Willis and Mrs. Smith represent alternative approaches to motherhood—Ma Smith offers space but cedes the intellectual energy to the younger women, while Mrs. Willis figures more as a race mother that influences and directs the path of racial progress. Mrs. Willis is also a foil to Sappho in this scene as a…show more content…
At a meeting of the American Colored League, where turn-of-the-century Boston’s black citizenry, along with delegates from all over the country, have gathered to confront a wave of Southern lynchings, Luke Sawyer rises to deliver an impromptu speech detailing the brutalities of southern racism. Scheduled speakers at the meeting are the transparent representatives of these leaders: Du Bois in the figure of the radical philosopher Will Smith and Washington in the person of Dr. Arthur Lewis, the “head of a large educational institution in the South devoted to the welfare of the Negros” and a man who advocates peaceful accommodation with southern whites (242). Luke Sawyer takes the podium and begins to preach by criticizing the previous speakers (the corrupt Mr. Clapp and his lackey, John Langley) for their “conservatism, lack of brotherly affiliation, lack of energy for the right and the power of the almighty dollar which deadens men’s hearts to the sufferings for his brothers” (256). Rather than engaging in the rational debate form (as represented by Clapp and Langley), Sawyer passionately narrates a personal story of his own family’s suffering, a history in which his father is punished by a lynching mob for operating a successful black business in

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