The final of the final.

Cotton Comes to Harlem Research

Maureen Iredell

Every good Wikipedia article must be supported by relevant sources; otherwise the article will seem less trusted as an article should be.  While researching Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes, there were many opinions that both support the jokes in the novel and some that claim that the novel is too farfetched for the time period.  Adding in one’s own opinion can make the article more relatable, but there cannot be any sense of bias in the writing.  In order to incorporate this opinion with facts of the era, there needs to be multiple sources and a validation from professionals, to prove that the writing is completely valid.

Through this research I personally focused on the plot summary, the theme of poverty at the time and how the film adaptation came about and the response to it.  Understanding that there were other people who would be contributing to this article helped me realize that one person’s perspective cannot be representative of every perspective.  Although the plot and the themes were observation and opinion based, there would still be many readers that would want the article to be reliable enough to classify as a factual resource.  In order to achieve this, the additional suggested sources need to be providing other plot summaries that are related to this article.  Whether the person loves the Blaxploitation genre, or if they believe that literature mentioning racism is does not represent the truth, they need to be able to trust the research and agree that everything shown is both believable and non-biased.

The plot was an easy part to get down, because we had already put together the main points that just needed to be expanded upon. There was little to no research going into this portion of the article because all that was needed was a good understanding of how the book went and then the ability to reiterate it in just a few paragraphs.  While the plot was simple enough to remember from the book, there was also a challenge when remembering how the setting and each event came to be and when.  The setting was in 1965 Harlem, New York, played out to be full of descriptions of how the characters had to deal with poverty, racism and even sexism, but for those that lived through the events, the plot of this novel shows advances within that time period of exposing how strong Black men and women should be, but it also puts a lot of blame on the white Americans that try hard to keep that African strength down.  This book is just fiction and hard-boiled with the murders and crimes, but there is still a lot of references to how oppression affects all of those underneath it.

Poverty in America in the late 1960s can be found in facts, but it is also seen in actions taken by the characters in this novel, because Himes wanted the reader to believe that the richer folk were actually manipulating the rest of the population into acting the way that they wanted them to.  There were two movements occurring in the story line that had people giving their life savings away to ideas they thought would help their lives for the better.  The descriptions of how these people were putting all of their savings and how the ones that still did not have enough had to stand outside a gate and pray that they could only a part of it, make any reader, critical or not, wish that anything could have helped this community out.  There is also people, not in the movements, that had to resort to violence and crime in order to make ends meet, like the two criminals who stole purses out of the back of a woman’s dress to get what today is considered enough money to live off of.  In the literary article, The Shape of Poverty in 1966, the author goes into specific details of what the means of living were at that time. It goes on to say that the “majority of the country” was in better standards than it was seven years ago in 1959, but there are actually 1 out of 7 people in America were in “households with money incomes for the year lower than the poverty line” (1).  This is all occurring many years after the Depression, but there are still apparent effects of it that show up now and again to show that this era was still a time of minimum spending and little to no ability to get what you want.  The novel ends with some humor when the reveal of Uncle Bud having the money and taking a vacation that he well deserves still shows that every single person of this time works harder than even today to get half as much.

The final and largest research done was for the film adaptation of the movie by Ossie Davis, which had all of the themes from the book with added humor and blaxploitation of Grave Digger and Coffin Ed.  The film keeps the main characters of the two detectives, Iris, Deke and many of the other cameos that show up, but the only characters that did not show up at all was Colonel Calhoun.  He was what was to be considered the main “bad guy” for the entire novel and without his appearance there was also no Back-to-South movement.  This movement helped to classify the era of a time where African Americans can no longer be discriminated against and so white Americans tried to send them back to areas where they could “work” again to get them cheap labor.  Without this motif in the movie the plot changes slightly to follow the two detectives more than Deke who had to fight Calhoun the entire way.  Another difference in the movie was when Iris and Mabel fight over Deke because there was a lot more sexual tension both between Deke and Mabel and Mabel and Iris, but in the film there was just a quick blow on the head to Mabel and that was that.  This shortened murder was most likely to help keep the violence to a minimum when Davis was trying to write a screenplay that focused most on how humorously disturbing the treatment of African Americans were at the time.

These changes from the book to the humorous movie created different opinions of how the viewers perceived the movie. A review by Howard Thompson expresses great gratitude of the movie as he is excited to say that the cast was “marvelous” and that the general plot of a “sly caper” that “tilts a neighborhood” is so excellent that it will be remembered for a long time (2).  On the other hand, a review in the Times that specifically claims that it was a “meretricious thriller that should offend the sensibilities of any audience—black or white” and thus disapproved of the movie (3).  Although the movie was planned to be focused on the two detectives the whole time, Chester Himes eventually thought that the matched his idea and “had a black orientation that [he] liked” (4).  Although the film included many adaptations that changed the overall feeling of the plot, Ossie Davis captured the essence that was the amount of oppression within Harlem in the 60s-70s.

In conclusion, the research for this novel has been both challenging and educational.  There were setbacks when trying to plan each part of writing as well as communication with the other contributors, but mainly it was simple to put facts and opinions together in order to make a reliable Wikipedia article.  Databases used such as the movie and book reviews from the University of Mary Washington’s online library, Google books and the Hein’s online database helped to connect claims to actual perceptions that occurred in the correct time period.  I found two reviews of the film as well as specific interviews from Himes himself and general facts about 1960s poverty.  It was a little difficult, though to find the best source that would properly back up the ideas expressed.  Although the plot and the themes were all opinions of what was read and how it was interpreted, it was good to find other reviews of the book, especially directly from that time, and add their opinions to the mix of how it was perceived.  The film adaptation was difficult because it did have opinions of what was actually seen, but there were still facts of how it was made and how the author of the book actually responded to it.  Once all of the themes and the differences of opinion to fact were put together, the article was then filled out to resemble a fully resourceful article.

Works Cited:
1.  Orshansky, Mollie. “The Shape of Poverty in 1966.” The Poverty Roster, 1966 3rd ser. 31 (1968): n. pag. Hein Online. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

2.  Thompson, Howard. “MOVIES THIS WEEK.” Times [New York] 27 Aug. 1995, sec. 03624331: n. pag. Acedemic Search Complete. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.


3.  ”Honkies in the Woodpile.” Times [New York] 6 July 1970, 96th ed., Pg 72 sec.: n. pag. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.


4.  ”Author Himes Likes Director Davis’ Handling of Film.” Jet 11 June 1970: 60-61. Google Books. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <>.

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