In My Father’s House by Ernest J. Gaines

Rev. Phillips Martin, who lives in a small Louisiana town, is a Civil Rights Leader in the 70’s. The movement is on the decline, with its prominent leaders being dead, but the people are still struggling for their rightful place in society. Martin is well-respected and the be-all and end-all of the town. This all changes one night, when a stranger knocks on the door of the local boarding-house and shows interest in nothing but lurking around the Reverend’s house. The young stranger, with a curious name like Robert X, is a mystery to all. The townspeople see him walking around at odd hours and are interested in finding out what he wants. When the Reverend finally sees Robert X at a party in his house, he collapses out of shock. He recognizes Robert X as his long-lost son, someone who he had given up as a young man. With this, Martin’s past comes rushing back to him, threatening to loosen his hold on his community and forcing people to lose faith in him.

In My Father’s House is a look into a man’s struggle to establish himself, only to lose it all because of the sins of his past. Gaines does a good job of portraying the Reverend as a man who lifts himself from poverty and depravity, who also decides to shut himself from his past. Even though he has found himself through faith, Martin expects things to be magically ok when they do go wrong. Martin crumbles against the wrath of his past mistakes, and acts in haste, mixing his political life with his personal. But even though he temporarily loses sight, Gaines allows Martin to finally find the answers.

Although my interest is in African American literature by women, this book provided an interesting counter-study of the perspective of men.Gaines tries to scratch the surface of the complex relations between sons and fathers, and by the end of the book, one wonders whether the void between them will ever be filled. If Martin listens to the women around him, it might.

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