The aesthetic evolution of Melvin B. Tolson : a thematic study of his poetry
Pinson, Hermine D.
Doody, Terrence A.
Doctor of Philosophy
Within the context of Euro-American and Afro-American modernism Tolson is an enigmatic figure. Only in recent years have critics and students begun to reappraise the works of a poet whose body of work reveals the varied influences of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, the Symbolists, and the Euro-American modernists. Tolson shares with Afro-American modernists, from Langston Hughes to Ralph Ellison, an indebtedness to Afro-American music and culture, from the blues to black vernacular speech to the tradition of "signifying," whether in the service of citing or "righting history." On the other hand, he shares with Euro-American modernists, from Ezra Pound to T. S. Eliot to W. B. Yeats, a predilection for symbolism, imagism, obscure allusions, and a preoccupation with confronting the chimeras of history and consciousness. To understand how Tolson manages to incorporate elements of aesthetic approaches that are often politically and stylistically antithetical, this study traces the poet's developing aesthetic, from his first manuscript, Portraits in a Harlem Gallery, to his last work, Harlem Gallery. The poet's subtle shift in emphasis on his staple themes--race, class, the role of the artist, and the nature of art--from one work to the next evidence the poet's struggle to clarify and sharpen a developing aesthetic that culminates in his final and best work, Harlem Gallery. Tolson's final solution to the psycho-historical phenomenon of double consciousness is a delicate synthesis of the most salient elements of both aesthetic approaches--Afro-American and Euro-American modernism. The result is neither derivative of Langston Hughes or T. S. Eliot, but a strong, individualistic Melvin B. Tolson.
American literature; Language; Language, literature and linguistics; Tolson, Melvin B.