Alice Walker’s short story, “Nineteen Fifty-Five,” spins a tale of a white rock star’s attempts to somehow compensate the black woman whose song made him wealthy. .
Read the story, then write a short essay (2-3 pages, about 600-900 words) about the characters’ interactions using the vocabulary from Danielle Fosler-Lussier’s textbook chapter, “Chapter 3. The African Diaspora in the United States” (https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/2640946 , pp. 68-79, especially terms such as race, appropriation, borrowing, diffusion, essentialism, reification, and strategic essentialism. Your essay should include some personal observations (e.g., “that’s what I would have done,” or “here’s how I would have responded differently,” or whatever).
There has been a lot of scholarly criticism of this story published. Feel free to consult any such work you come across, but if you do, please provide proper citations to acknowledge the work you consulted (otherwise, you are appropriating somebody else’s work, just like Traynor in the story … and you will eventually feel very guilty about it).
N.B. Walker’s story appears to be based on Elvis Presley’s cover of a song Big Mama Thornton first recorded (“Hound Dog”), however it is worth pointing out that neither Thornton nor Presley wrote that song. You can listen to both recordings via the optional assignment on listening to the blues:
1. “Lost Your Head Blues,” sung by Bessie Smith. Recorded in New York City on May 4, 1926, with Fletcher Henderson on piano. An example of “classic” blues, with jazz combo accompaniment. Listen to Joe Smith on trumpet, providing the “response” to Bessie’s “call.”
2. “Cross Road Blues,” sung by Robert Johnson. Recorded on Friday, November 27, 1936, in San Antonio, Texas. An example of country blues (also known as downhome blues, rural blues, delta blues). Typically performed by a single performer; here, Robert Johnson provides his own “responses” on his slide guitar. Notice how flexibly he treats the 12-bar formula—it is often 13 or 14 bars long.
3. “Hoochie Coochie Man,” performed by Muddy Waters. An example of Chicago’s urban blues. Note the amplified instruments and the presence of the harmonica. This is sixteen bar blues form, meaning that the first four bars (on the tonic, or “1” chord) has been expanded to fill eight bars. The blues found a home in Chicago after approximately five million blacks moved north from Mississippi between the two World Wars, the greatest peace-time migration in American history. The electrified sound of the urban blues can be heard to symbolize the move from rural to urban life.