African American literature is a literature of a rather recent vintage compared to the literature of other civilizations. As a matter of fact, African American literature was born after United States took a break from reconstruction and where segregation emerged. It is this discrimination and oppression of the African Americans that compelled black writers to write. The American social order that was established by the constitution in 1898 was violent and intimidating towards the black Americans. African American literature started taking shape in the 1950s in the context of a challenge to enforce and justify racial exploitation and subordination by law. Art for the art’s sake condenses the notion that art has an independent value that should be adjudged differently from any other emergent themes such as politics, history, religion and morality. Art for the arts sake educates that art aesthetic value should not be confused with aesthetic values of other spheres of life (Whistler).
African American literature that touches mainly on social, political and historical issues depict the real situations in the nation and educate people about their rights. Looking at Phillis Wheatley’s literature, it is notable that her work was dedicated mainly to religious and moral issues. It taught black Americans that they were not in any way inferior to the whites in spiritual matters and could be spiritually equal to the whites (Whistler). It encourages them to join the “angelic train”. Her literature coached a social equality argument in the gospel of Christianity of universal humanity and brotherhood. This changed a lot about how the blacks perceived themselves and enabled them to pursue spiritual truth. It also demanded literary recognition to be given to early African Americans. Such literature allowed African American writers to come up and compete against some of their top competitors (Whistler).
Other literature artists like Olaudah Equiano pioneered the slave narrative that was a first-hand narrative that spoke against the enslavement of the black people in America. In his work, Equiano used African origins to establish the credibility of his work (Warren). Himself he was a critic of European colonization in Africa. Although questions have been raised concerning the origin of Equiano, his literature gained readership not only in America but also in Europe. Fredrick Douglass narrative “an American Slave, Written by Himself,” gained so much attention and established him as the leading black man of literature during his time. These pieces of literature had even deeper consequences than are thought of. It is from such works that the Europeans and Americans of the injustices the inflicted on African Americans. It also opened the eyes of the African Americans concerning their rights and also concerning their abilities (Andres).
Should the art be for the art’s sake? No. looking at what African American literature talks about and the moral, religious and political issues that it addresses, it is uncalled for that it be assessed just as literature. The issues that the literature talks about should certainly be considered since they address very critical issues in the society, issues that form the basis for the society itself. Secondly is that African American literature has achieved so much, it deserves that what it talks about be looked at. These achievements range from the issues of enslavement of the blacks to those of segregation and inequality. It is important to understand that without African literature that was not art for the art’s sake, there could be no African American literature in the first place.
Andres, W. L. African American Literature. 16 November 2014. Text. 22 April 2015.
Warren, W. What Was African American Literature. New York, 2012. Document .
Whistler, J. A. ART FOR ART'S SAKE SYNOPSIS. 21 November 2014. Text. 22 April 2015.