Jean Wagner: On "Heritage"

There can hardly be any doubt, then, that Cullen's pagan Africa must be viewed as the projection of half of himself--but no more than half, for just as the two parts of "Heritage" contrast the profane and the sacred and within each part depict the rational constituents of the Western World as locked in combat with the emotional forces of racial atavism, similarly the mystique of race and of its cradle in Africa is but the first stage in the poet's inner striving to effect a reconciliation between irreconcilables and so to attain the unity he longed for.

After emerging victorious from this first stage, he can speak of the pointlessness of "any nebulous atavistic yearnings toward an African inheritance." For by then he had discovered that Africa was only a pretext for escape, an opportunity offered the individual to flee from the relevant reality around him into a cloudland of dream and illusion. When all was said and done, it was an invitation to flee from oneself. And so the dream of Africa becomes, in a way, transformed into the antithesis of any authentic inner life, for the individual is dispensed thereby from the struggle to transcend self, lulled to sleep on the path leading to spiritual values, and provided with an instantaneous gratification of the urges of a tormented psyche. Like jazz, Africa is both opiate and intoxicating whirl, not balm that heals once and for all, since nothing is gained beyond a provisional, illusive, emotional equilibrium.


Title Jean Wagner: On "Heritage" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Jean Wagner Criticism Target Countee Cullen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 11 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Black Poets of the United States: From Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes
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