African American Literature
November 13, 2012
Foundation and Hope in Philadelphia Fire
Five years after the MOVE incident in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, writer and professor at Brown University John Edgar Wideman wrote Philadelphia Fire. The novel is centered on the 1985 bombing of John Africa’s MOVE organization by the Philadelphia police and fire department, an attack that destroyed over fifty homes and killed eleven people. One of the main themes of this novel is the lost generation of American youth. On the surface, Whiteman tells the story of the events of that day but goes further in depth by exploring the perspective of Cudjoe, a black novelist in the novel. Philadelphia Fire was generally well received after the initial publication by the public but also brought up questions about the events of that day. My essay will examine two sections of Philadelphia Fire and expose how they apply to the novel in its entirety. Cudjoe, the main narrative in the novel returns to Philadelphia after almost a decade from a self-imposed exile. He finds his way back to his hometown in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of Simba Muntu. Muntu is the sole survivor of the fire. Cudjoe is motivated to return precisely because of the sense of betrayal that has been growing inside of him. He feels as if he has betrayed his sons, his writing, his commitment to make a change in the world, and mainly himself. Wideman uses Cudjoe’s separation from his sons to parallel his own loss of his son who had gone to prison. Wideman’s personal quest to be able to free his son counterpoints Cudjoe’s quest to locate Simba Muntu. In the end, Simba Muntu is never found and Wideman’s son is still imprisoned. The first section of Philadelphia Fire I will discuss is in part one. Narrated by Wideman himself, he discusses how “He taught us about the holy Tree of Life” (10). He explains how everyone on earth is born to be a part of the Tree of Life and how we are...