April 16, 2013
The Materialistic and Patriarchal Fall of Linden Hills
Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor successfully creates a chilling argument against suppressive patriarchal societies and families. She vividly exposes the implications of what can happen to a society when cultural traits, morality and close family and neighborhood ties take a backseat to the attainment of material things and status become the driving force for people.
“They eat, sleep, and breathe for one thing --- making it” (Naylor 39). This quote is from Lester in a conversation with his friends, summing up the people of Linden Hills, of which he begrudgingly is one of. Although he lives on the outermost circle of Linden Hills, he feels nothing but disgust and contempt for the neighborhood as a whole. This scene early in the book Linden Hills lays the groundwork for a journey through the neighborhood with Lester and his friend Willie that reveals the negative impact when a society focuses on things and status and loses touch with it’s sense of community and family. We will see how Willie, an “outsider” from Putney Wayne with no education and no money, is the one with the greatest amount of character and morality.
As Lester and Willie travel throughout Linden Hills in an effort to make a little money, they encounter residents who have compromised themselves in one way or another in order to belong to Linden Hills. The only way to make it into this coveted neighborhood is to be hand picked by Luther Nedeed. Naylor’s description of Nedeed with his “short squat body” and “protruding eyes” (3) conjures up an evil and almost satanic picture in the reader’s mind. The original Luther Nedeed passed down not only his name to all the subsequent generations of males, but also his disturbing physical characteristics. The foundation of Linden Hills itself was formed by the original Nedeed who “sold his octoroon wife and 6 children” (Naylor 2) for the money to buy the land. Over the years the subsequent Nedeeds built on this foundation by carefully choosing the residents. The Nedeeds chose only those who were hungry for materialism and status and would not offer any opposition. Ironically, in Linden Hills, moving up meant moving down. Status increased as you moved down the hill, with the most coveted residences being on Tupelo Drive, closest to Luther Nedeed.
Lester and Willie begin their trip into Linden Hills at Lester’s house where the reader meets Lester’s mother, Mrs. Tilson and his sister Roxanne. Both of the ladies of the house give the impression that they are not content being on the outermost circle of Linden Hills and would like to move down the hill. Mrs. Tilson has an over the top propriety to her behavior and states “I was never one for keeping up with the Jones’s but it’s pretty embarrassing to have the worst house on the block and to just settle for that” (Naylor 51). Roxanne is determined to “marry well - or not at all” (Naylor 53) and to achieve this she “had paid her dues to the Civil Rights Movement by wearing an afro for six months and enrolling in black history courses in college” (Naylor 53). She has also used “a decades worth of bleaching creams and hair relaxers” (Naylor 53). Many of these behaviors deny their unique cultural characteristics, as though in order to make it in this coveted black community, it is necessary to deny what makes them unique and to appear less “black”. Even Roxanne’s love interest Xavier, a successful black businessman, becomes frightened at the thought of falling in love with a black woman, calling it “one of the most terrifying experiences of his life” (Naylor 97). He even seeks the advice of a coworker on the matter. In his review of Linden Hills, “African American Whiteness in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills“, Tim Engles describes Roxanne as “an avid social climber interested in marrying rich” who “actively whitens her natural appetites and those aspects of herself that are...
Cited: Naylor, Gloria. Linden Hills. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. Print.
Engles, Tim. “African American Whiteness in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” African American Review 43.4 (Winter 2009): 661-679, 789. Web March 2013.
Eckard, Paula. “The Entombed Maternal in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills”. Callaloo 35.3
(2012): 795-809. Web March 2013.
Okonkwo, Christopher N. “Suicide or Messianic Self-Sacrafice?: Exhuming Willa’s
Body in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills”. African American Review 35.1 (Spring
2001): 117. Web March 2013.
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