Research Paper of the Research done for a Book. aka: Inception!

Cotton Comes to Harlem Research

Maureen Iredell

Every good Wikipedia article must be supported by great sources; otherwise there is no believability to the facts that are displayed.  While researching for the article on Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes, there were many opinions that both support the themes 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 corporate this opinion with fact of the era, there needs to be multiple reviews of what was written as well as a second opinion from someone else 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 let me realize that one person’s perspective cannot be a representation of everyone.  Although the plot and the themes were opinion based as well as the true fact of how it was perceived, there would still be many readers that would want the article to be understood by any person’s personality.  Whether the person loves the Blaxploitation of African Americans, or if they believe that the racism is completely overrated in literature, they need to be able to trust the research and opinion 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 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 an easy 1965 Harlem, New York read that had plenty of descriptions of how the characters had to deal with poverty, racism and even sexism, but when that time has already passed and the events have already been solved, the recall of them gets difficult.  It is said that history is written by the winners, so there is a lot of false facts that may have been added to today’s knowledge of the past and this affects everyone who tries to retell the past because the actual events may get confused with the idea that everything was okay in the 1960s.  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 reverences to how oppression affects all of those underneath it.

The effect of one person’s opinion on the overall perception of a theme also plays into the research done on the mentioned poverty within this novel.  Poor African Americans as well as poor actions that they take is extremely apparent 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 too.  The novel begins with the Back-to-Africa movement and the readers are automatically thrown into the 1960s effort to go to a land that is promised to have better opportunities than what Black Americans were receiving then.  Once reading and researching about this movement today, anyone can guess that it was just a hoax and if not, then these poor people that saved up all of their money will not get what they were promised.  Even within the time, the readers could have guessed that the Reverend was most likely lying to their faces, and yet the characters believe with all their hearts that they are going to finally go “home”.  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.  The next main event of the caper explains that other people had to resort to violence and crime in order to make ends meet, and when it is revealed that it was white men that had stolen all of the money, the reader can guess that even some of the most respected people of the time had to work hard, in any way, to get through rough times.

The setting in general shows that people lived in shanty towns and tried to go to the cheapest of bars just to get a quick drink and some entertainment.  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 unless you steal off of someone else’s backside.  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 powerful actions taken by the policemen Grave Digger and Coffin Ed.  The movie was the beginning of an era where Black policemen and other workers take control of any situation and make themselves strong figures, and this is called Blaxploitation.  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.  Overall, however, the film kept up a good following of the book and an interview in Jet magazine proved that even Himes approved of the final product of the film.

In conclusion, the research for this novel has been both challenging and educational.  There was set backs 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 featured Wikipedia article.  Databases used such as the University of Mary Washington’s online library and Google books and other trustworthy databases was all connected to what was being searched for, 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.

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