The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

English: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Elizabeth Van Pelt

Second Advisor

Philip Keith

Third Advisor

Kenneth Acrea

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Black folk culture, Black literature, Harlem Renaissance, 1920s, Black oral tradition, Black religion


The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s was a period which fostered the development of a black literature that drew heavily upon the black folk culture. Novels representative of this literature are Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes, One Way to Heaven by Countee Cullen, Home to Harlem by Claude McKay, The Walls of Jericho by Rudolph Fisher, God Sends Sunday by Arna Bontemps, and Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston.

Various aspects of black folk music are presented in the fiction. The traditions of minstrelsy are utilized in characterizations of a city dandy and two endmen. Dance traditions are represented by descriptions of a cakewalk and a jazz dance. References to the circle dance appear in a presentation of secular dance and in a discussion of dance traditions and religious customs. The fiction emphasizes the diversity of the spirituals and the haunting qualities of the sorrow songs. The novels reflect various forms of the blues, several traditions associated with blues singers, and the instrumentation of the blues. Diversity in blues themes is evident in the blues verses and general themes which appear in the fiction.

Characteristics of black religion are well represented in the novels. Physical manifestations and emotional sensations of religious frenzy are depicted in detail, and the relationship between religion and magic and the distinction between good and evil are accurately presented. Traditions associated with the black preacher are evident in the characterizations of preachers and preaching style. Preacher-congregation conflicts and style-of-worship controversies also appear in the literature.

The oral traditions of black folktales, proverbs, and beliefs are accurately depicted in the novels. The practicality and realism of folk proverbs are apparent, and the presentations of folktale materials stress the psychological functions of the trickster and preacher tales. Black language traditions are reflected in the images and unusual word usages that appear in the speech of a variety of characters in the fiction.

Praise of the Harlem Renaissance authors was the forte of Alain Locke, who astutely assessed the unique qualities of the Harlem Renaissance fiction and who identified the folk culture as the source of that uniqueness. Locke's opinions are supported by the high degree of correspondence between the literacy presentations and the actual black folk culture elements.