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A Case of Mis-Taken Identity

Detective Undercurrents in Recent African American Fiction


Helen Lock

The detective story, staple of Western popular culture, has undergone a transformation in recent African American fiction. In the work of Ishmael Reed, Toni Morrison, and Ralph Ellison, among others, a pattern of detection emerges which has its roots in African mythology and aesthetics. The traditionally marginal figure of the victim here takes center stage, and the investigation focuses not on «whodunit?» but on how to undo it: how to invalidate the victimization by resurrecting the victim as a fully autonomous, de-marginalized figure.