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Emmett Till James Baldwin Marcus Garvey Frederick Douglas Fanny Lou Hammer
 

 

MARCUS GARVEY

 

The Man and the Movement   Poetry and Oral Tradition   Liberty University
         
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Marcus Garvey

Vanity Fair

More deliberatively, Garvey's choice of the title for his epic poem, "The White Man's Game, His Vanity Fair" (later reprinted in pamphlet form under the title The Tragedy of White Injustice) reflects a similar penchant for alluding to great works of English literature. But just as he endowed the gospel of success with new racial meanings, so he converted common literary allusion to his own purposes, making it a medium of a new racial politics. The incorporation of "Vanity Fair" in the poem's title alludes to the infamous marketplace by that name in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678). While William Makepeace Thackeray used the name of Bunyan's town as a metaphor for the decadence of bourgeois society in London in his 1848 novel Vanity Fair, Garvey employed the name of the town in his 1927 poem to encapsulate its theme of white oppression and decadence. Just as Bunyan's work is a kind of sacred picaresque in which evil is pitted against good, so Garvey's poem is a chronicle of the atrocities committed against native peoples by white colonizers. In Bunyan's allegory, Christian, the protagonist, and Faithful, his traveling companion, are waylaid on their journey toward the Celestial City at Vanity Fair, a market town ruled by Beelzebub. In this hellish town, the streets are named after Britain, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. "Knaves and rogues" and "thefts, murders, adulteries, false swearers" are met with on these thoroughfares, and vanities bought and sold. The two travelers are taken prisoner, tortured, and ridiculed. Faithful is tried in a court presided over by Judge Hategood---with a jury made up of Mr. Blind-man, Mr. Malice, Mr. Cruelty, and others---and sentenced to death. He is whipped, stoned, and finally burned at the stake, whereupon his spiritual body is released from his ashes and carried up into the heavens by a horse-drawn chariot---a metaphor of deliverance popularly preserved in Negro spirituals.

In referring to Vanity Fair in The Tragedy of White Injustice, Garvey sought an analogy between the persecution experienced by Bunyan's travelers at the hands of the immoral townspeople and that experienced by Africans, Native Americans, and aboriginal Australians at the hands of Europeans during imperial expansion.

 

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