Issues in Contemporary Literature: Black English as Identity

About Sapphari's novel "Push"

Literature Review 1999 8 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Patricia Alvarez Sánchez

Sapphire´s Push: An example of Black English in literature Language is one very special way we have to communicate with other human beings. It unites members of similar cultures who learn to share through the same experiences and to see the world through the same vocabulary. There are at least as many cultures as languages in the world. As Wilhelm von Humboldt mentioned “The variety of languages is not merely a variety of sounds and signs, but in fact a variety of world views.” Undoubtedly, languages are a unifying element that brings identity and uniqueness to every human being because they tell the rest of the world, where we come from, where we have lived and who we are.

This paper deals with Black English, also called African American English or Ebonics, as an African American linguistic variety of American English and the way it is reflected in the novel Push (1997) by Sapphire. It discusses Black English as a way to express and define black identity and their unique culture. There is a parallelism in the oppression of a language and the culture it represents, as we can clearly appreciate in the case of Black English. While Ebonics has been oppressed by the predominant Standard English, blacks were violently silenced by “standard” North Americans. It was not until recently that Ebonics´ uniqueness has been interpreted neither as a mispronunciation of English, nor as a series of grammatical mistakes due to ignorance or lack of education. Unfortunately, both blacks´ language and their culture have suffered from manipulation and have been bent to fit the needs of the dominant class.

Sapphari´s Push (1997) is a novel that combines pure poetry and brutal honesty and was also the first novel completely written in Ebonics. As such, it arose an important controversy due to its novelty and harsh themes. It tells the story of a black American adolescent who fights to survive a vicious cycle of Patricia Alvarez Sánchez Sapphire´s Push: An example of Black English in literature incest and abuse. Being obese, illiterate and lacking self-esteem, her father rapes her repeatedly and she becomes pregnant for the second time, her first baby having Down´s syndrome, and is, as a result, expelled from school.

She is then sent to a special school where she meets a determined and inspiring teacher that presents himself in front of the class as being homosexual. He is proud of what he is even though he belongs to a group of people that has also been repeatedly despised and oppressed. She starts to become interested in the classes and receives the attention she really needs. He is the one that tells her she has been raped by her father, not loved, and neglected. It is through his eyes she understands it is not her own fault. She copes with her own disastrous life in terms of daydreaming, which absorbs most of her time. She dreams she is milky white, slim and desirable. With his help and encouragement, she starts reading and writing and eventually ends up writing her own poetry.

Ebonics is Precious´ first way to communicate and, in a larger sense, the way to find her unique identity throughout the novel. Ebonics is the way she has to see the world and although she is illiterate at the beginning of the novel, she is able to communicate with her most immediate world because she speaks a language she has inherited from her mother, from her ancestors and her past. In order to understand why Precious or any other person in the United States uses a variant of English, we should consider this person´s background. Blacks speak a different variety of English because their native languages were others than English and these have deeply influenced and transformed the new language they were forced to learn. History has unfortunately shown how blackswere shipped as slaves to the “New Continent”, where they were treated as “merchandise”.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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591 KB
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Institution / College
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Black English Vernacular English Ebonics



Title: Issues in Contemporary Literature: Black English as Identity