The Narrative of Creative Democracy in the Harlem Renaissance
This chapter assembles a bridge between nineteenth-century black women’s philosophy and the Harlem Renaissance. To a degree, this bridge spans a transition from a feminism couched in ideals of true womanhood to one closely wedded to the New Negro Movement. However, the transition also comes to light through narrative threads that encapsulate black feminist experiential understandings of democracy. Thus, the chapter focuses on strategies for determining how Jessie Fauset, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston narrativize and particularize the black maternal archetype and black women’s communities. In their fiction, constructions of the archetype and communities take shape through young women’s experimentations with different modes of creative democracy. The individualistic pursuit of specific ideals like beauty, love, and security stands at the forefront of the protagonists’ stories, but they stitch together these ideals with material gleaned from community-based genealogies. Furthermore, the constructs at the heart of these genealogies re-emerge in the characters’ lives, inflecting the pragmatic “truths” that grow through experience.