The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Houston Baker, “Blues, Ideology and
African-American Literature,” 1984

from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001, 2227-40

  1. What is Baker’s definition of vernacular? (arts native or peculiar to a particular country or locale, 2228)
  2. What is his notion of an “ancestral matrix”? (2228)
  3. What seems to be Baker’s own critical method? (marxist? structuralist? thematic? (2229-30)
  4. What does he present as the themes of the blues? (2231) What seem to be the economic class and gender of the speakers of the verses he cites?
  5. Are there other realms of experience within the blues he might have mentioned? For example, does he include the blues songs in female voice?
  6. What does Baker mean by the claim that the blues are a code and force? (2233)
  7. What are some aspects of blues performance? (2234 onomatopoeic imitation of railroads, etc.)
  8. Why in his view were train songs, and the blues in general, so popular within African-American experience? (2238)
  9. What are some instances of a “blues tradition” in later African-American literature? (239-40) Are you able to follow why these and not other scenes are instances of the blues?
  10. Does his definition of the “blues” apply only to the songs or literature of a particular period?
  11. What do you think of Baker’s claims? Would they apply to some later forms of African-American art or music?
  12. Are there other expressions of non-African-American cultural expressions which might be subject to a similar analysis?



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