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African-American Discourse Styles In

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As with the various discourse elements of all cultures throughout the world, African-American literature itself contains a myriad of elements imperative to the genre.

Clustered story points, code-talking, various elements of the Slave Narrative are all visible in Johnson's "The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man."

Although Johnson's autobiography is not a slave narrative, the post-bellum novel does contain many of the common features of such narratives. One such feature is the loss of family. Johnson recounts the story of the tall man with the hat and shiny shoes who regularly sat with his mother. After a trying event in school where he learns that he is of mixed race, he runs home to ask his mother who his father is. Instead of telling him the man with the shiny shoes is his father, she says she will tell him at another time. It was not until many years later that Johnson is properly introduced to his father. This meeting is so uncomfortable that he ends up leaving, speaking to his father for the last time (although the does see him once more in Paris). Additionally, Johnson is not aware of any other family members in his life and the death of his mother sets in him a great sadness that he only recovers from by attempting to make her proud, even after her death.

Significant also is the Gold Token to a slave narrative. Johnson receives this gift from his father at a young age when the man bores a hole through a ten-dollar gold piece and ties the coin around his neck. As Johnson says:

I have worn that gold piece around my neck the greater part of my life, and still possess it, but more than once I have wished that some other way had been found of attaching it to me besides putting a hole through it. (6)

Additionally, aside from the shiny shoes or boots the man wore, he also carried a gold watch that he allowed Johnson to play with when he was visiting. These pieces of gold set high into Johnson's mind as he tells them in the onset of the novel.

Hideous abuse and punishment are also important features to the slave narrative. Although this is not entirely evident to Johnson himself, clearly the most significant abuse he received as a child was that from his mother on the days he had to have a bath and the soap would burn his eyes. The love she bestowed upon him throughout the novel does not suggest that these painful baths were malicious in any way, nor was the spanking he received after pulling up the upside-down bottles in the yard. However, the burning at the stake of an African-American man in the south is one of the most horrific scenes witnessed by Johnson. It was after witnessing this scene he decided to, "neither disclaim the black race nor claim the white race." (190)

The most poignant scene of the novel allows us to introduce the Narrow Escape feature of a slave narrative. As Johnson sits with the "Widow" and her friend in the "Club" in New York, he witnesses the "Widow" shot through her neck by a distraught and jealous lover. Without stopping to see if he should be next, Johnson runs out of the "Club" and thankfully meets his benefactor, the millionaire. Without waiting for criminal charges to be passed on to him, or the indication that it could happen, Johnson and his benefactor board a ship bound for Paris where he spends the next few years of his life.

Mutual Aid of Slaves, is evident, although none of the characters are slaves. At each stage of his life Johnson is aided by one or another man in his same situation in life. The porter, the cigar-maker, the men on the streets, all help Johnson find his way and help him through difficult situations. Oddly enough then, Johnson also tells the story of the man who stole his money and tie. This man was also in the same life situation as Johnson and instead of helping him, coming to his aid, he hurts him, changing his life forever.

It must be said then that the best connection to the slave narrative this novel has is the utter loneliness Johnson felt after the death of his mother, and even at times prior to her death. As a young man, Johnson's mother dies leaving him with no family to count on or to turn to for comfort. He is not even contacted by his own father. Although the townspeople come to his aid at the concert, he knows that from that point on in his life, he will be alone. He will have no place to call his home and no person to call his family, at least until he marries.

The Griot Story-telling style consists of generational aspects, starting with the earliest known ancestor and working through the family; positional aspects, the day of the week born, birth order; and cluster style grouping of events where the story has a starting point, but moves back and forth throughout the life of the narrator. The earliest and only known ancestors for Johnson are his mother and his father. He cannot give more information on his ancestral lines because he cannot recall other family members being around.

Clustered events are difficult to follow for many readers, however Johnson makes this easy by saying at the end of one point that he plans to come back to the subject later. When he does finally return to the previous subject, sometimes many paragraphs or pages later, he tells the reader that he is returning to a previously mentioned fact. This is most evident when he talks about his newly developed gambling addiction at the "gambling-house". Additionally, Johnson stops telling the reader about his father and instead moves into stories about piano playing, then returns back to the introduction of his father. This is quite common in slave narratives, especially evident in "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" by Harriet Jacobs when she moves from one story to explain the presence of a new character, then back to the main point. Additionally, Frederick Douglass, one of Johnson's heroes, uses this method in his autobiography "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," when he tells about his life on the farm with Covey the slave breaker, then tells about the life-saving root and the man he receives it from, then moves back to Covey's farm. Johnson employs this technique with great ease, following the examples of his ancestors and heroes.

The best example of Code-talking in this novel are the various nicknames given to the characters. Johnson is dubbed, "Professor". Also, he chooses names for each of the friends he makes in grade school, "Shiny"



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