Undeniable is the diversity of the African-American experience in America. Although we share in similar ancestry and, for some, skin pigmentation, there still exist many differences not only about how we define ourselves individually, but also how we see ourselves through the eyes of others and the kaleidoscope of varying experiences that we have. These different experiences, further, become made known to the world in the aesthetic expressions of writers and artists. Most notable examples include, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and—most recently—Beyond Katrina by Natasha Trethewey. All of these recognized scholarly expressions attempt to articulate, in some way, the consummate experiences of an individual.
Moreover, although experiences vary, there are those which may be shared by African-Americans collectively. Using Trethewey’s Beyond Katrina as a primary example, one may find specific themes which are shared collectively by people of African descent, and those include the effect of the absence of the familial male, tragedy as a motivating force for African-Americans, and the history of America as told by the oppressor.
Among the many pervasive themes in Trethewey’s Beyond Katrina is the effect of the absence of the familial male. Natasha’s brother is incarcerated for the entire duration of the book, however it does not appear so considering the amount of the letters that they exchange. Although he is locked away, he still has an obvious presence in her life. This serves as a direct distinction between many other African-Americans today in realization that most families now develop in the absence of black male figures. In a letter written between Joe and Natasha, the context around which Joe found himself in jail is articulated. The letter reads, “In some areas of the coast you can still see abandoned buildings, boarded up and spray–painted with the words We are here, We have a Gun, We will shoot. These are reminders of the crimes committed and the actions people took to protect their homes” (Trethewey). These are the usual circumstances that create unfortunate opportunities for young Black men to end up in jail, which ultimately leads to his absence in the family. According to the American Community Survey approximately 53 percent of black children grow up in a home without a male figure. This may appear tragic at first glance, but tragedy appears to stand as a catalyst rather than a deterrent.
Tragedy for blacks in the new world stands as a motivating factor for African-American achievement. Of course, one of the most prominent examples is the forced enslavement and rape of Africans of their native land. Natasha Trethewey stands as a primary example of that achievement. Natasha discusses the tragedy of losing both her mother and her hometown to domestic abuse and natural disaster respectively. Through poetry and in expressing vividly the tragedies of the past, Trethewey—as a result of her success—was...