Savannah’s Role as a Setting in African American Literature


Savannah’s Role as a Setting in African American Literature

Savannah, Georgia, with its rich history and cultural heritage, has played a significant role in African American literature. This historic city, with its diverse landscapes and unique setting, has inspired authors to explore the complexities of the African American experience. Through their writings, these authors have captured the essence of Savannah and its influence on the lives of African Americans living in the city. In this article, we will discuss the role of Savannah as a setting in African American literature and its impact on the portrayal of the African American experience.

The city of Savannah holds a special place in African American literature as it was one of the major ports of entry for enslaved Africans brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade. This dark and painful history is intricately intertwined with the city’s landscape, making it a crucial element in African American literature. The portrayal of Savannah as a setting in literature reflects the constant struggle of African Americans for freedom, equality, and identity.

One prominent literary work that illustrates the significance of Savannah as a setting is “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. This non-fiction novel details the events surrounding the murder trial of Jim Williams, a wealthy antiques dealer, in Savannah’s historic district. The city itself is described as a character in the novel, with its charming squares, oak-lined streets, and eerie Spanish moss. Through his vivid descriptions of the city, Berendt captures the essence of Savannah and its role in both the white and black communities. The novel also delves into the city’s dark past, including its involvement in the slave trade, highlighting the racial tensions that still linger in present-day Savannah.

Another example of Savannah as a setting in African American literature is Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” The novel is set in rural Georgia, but the main character, Celie, is originally from Savannah. The city is portrayed as a place of oppression and suffering, where wives are beaten by their husbands and African American women are subjected to constant abuse and injustice. The contrast between the rural and urban settings in the novel portrays Savannah as a symbol of the harsh reality that many African American women faced in the South during the early 20th century.

In addition to its historical significance, Savannah’s landscape also serves as a representation of the social and economic disparities between African Americans and white citizens. The separation of the city into the “White Historic District” and the “Black Historic District” is a reflection of the racial segregation that was present in Savannah during the Jim Crow era. This division of the city is portrayed in literature, emphasizing the challenges faced by African Americans living in Savannah during this time.

Furthermore, the beauty of Savannah’s landscapes is often contrasted with the struggles of its African American inhabitants, giving a deeper subtext to the city’s role in literature. This is evident in Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” where the lush greenery and serene coast of Savannah are contrasted with the poverty and oppression faced by its African American characters. This contrast highlights the complex relationship between the city’s natural beauty and its troubled past.

In conclusion, Savannah’s role as a setting in African American literature is multi-faceted. It not only serves as a physical backdrop for the stories but also symbolizes the struggles and triumphs of African Americans. Through this setting, authors have been able to capture the complexities of the African American experience and shed light on the dark history of the city. Savannah’s influence on literature is a testament to its significance in African American culture and its contribution to the overall narrative of African American literature.