Harper was born on September 24, 1825, in Baltimore, Maryland, and died on February 22, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pa. She was 86 years old when she died. During her lifetime she was recognized by historians as being one of the most important women of her time, not only as an African American author but also as an orator and as a social reformer.(1)
interpreting the work, you will address either the question of meaning or significance. In other words, the key question (choose one) that you want to answer is: what does the work mean Answer: Problem with Themes which confuses what the novel is all about: First Paragraph introduces the work
Significance of book, as well as contradictions to thesis: The book is important to American Literature because of its accurate descriptions concerning the cruelties suffered by slaves prior to and during the Civil War. (2) And while this also appears to be the main theme of the book, there are others which fight for this place. Three of these are: the life of the author as a social reformer in the late 1800's; the romantic life of Iola Leroy, who was also a social reformer, and the history of Christianity in the African American culture.
One of the reasons this it is so difficult to understand the principal theme is that Harper uses two voices to tell the different stories in the novel. She uses the dialect of slaves in the first person voice to tell about the horrors they survived prior to and during the Civil War. This voice clearly tells the story of slavery in that era. The other voice is that of the third person. It is the voice of the author and speaks of her life as much or more than it does the life of Iola, the protagonist. The fact that Iola does not appear until the sixth chapter of the novel makes it more difficult to determine her place in the theme of the novel. Another confusing factor is the style of the book as a historic romance novel. Like most of these books, this novel spins a tale of fantasy romance with a happily ever after ending.
In addition to these themes, the second part of the book's title implies the theme of shadows lurking over the characters in the book. One wonders if the book is about the shadows that haunt Harper as a Black American Woman or the lives of the characters in the book. Yet, this theme is not fully developed and, therefore, could not be called a central theme. This is just as true for the theme of the history of Christianity. Although the stories regarding this are entertaining they sometimes take away from the seriousness of the stories about slavery and they affects society. The back and forth movement of these stories add to the reader's confusion in searching for the meaning of the book. And there appears to be even more themes in the book, including that of the story of a Black American feminist.
It is questionable as to whether or not the character of Iola is patterned after Harper's own life. Both women face discrimination, not only because of the "color" of their skin, but also because of their gender. This is a theme that could further be developed to make the novel more interesting in this respect. For example, Harper could expand on the occurrences of discrimination than Iola faces-describing more vividly how these takes place as