Houston Baker, Jr.: On "Heritage"

The vivid descriptions of its fierce flowers and pagan impulses show that Africa is much more than bedtime reading for the narrator. Moreover, when he states that he is trying to move beyond the call of heathen deities, the text leaps forth in refutation. Some critics have faulted Cullen for "Heritage," stating that he makes topographical mistakes and perpetuates the idea of the black man as a "noble savage." Such responses can carry one only so far, however, with a poem as thoroughly ironical as "Heritage." While it is true that there is an undue enthusiasm recurrent in the passages on Africa, it is also true that Cullen was interested in a blatant contrast between the benign and unsmiling deities of the new land and the thoroughly initiated gods of the old. The entire poem is placed in a confessional framework as the narrator tries to define his relationship to some white, ontological being and finds that a black impulse ceaselessly draws him back.


Title Houston Baker, Jr.: On "Heritage" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Houston Baker, Jr. Criticism Target Countee Cullen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 11 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Afro-American Poetics: Revisions of Harlem and the Black Aesthetic
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