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The Blues Aesthetic and the Making of American Identity in the Literature of the South

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Barbara A. Baker

The blues aesthetic as formulated by Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray holds that the African-American vernacular tradition, with blues music at its core, has had an unparalleled impact on the whole of American culture and art. Examining the manner in which the aesthetics related to blues music are manifested in the literature of George Washington Harris, Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lewis Nordan reveals that African-American experience is diffused throughout Southern literature, from Old Southwest humor to contemporary fiction. The blues aesthetic as a window into the works of these four authors allows the reader to recognize the African-American and Southern elements that contribute to the making of American identity as expressed in our art.