After reading “Hope Deferred” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson I felt both enlightened and enraged. Although I do believe that some of the points being made by the story itself were a little obvious, I realize that I also have to be cognizant of the fact that it was written for an audience much different from me. For someone in the early 20thcentury with little knowledge of the struggle of the African American community I can imagine that this story would be deeply revealing. First off, appreciated the use of Edwards’ relationship with his wife. The fact that this man was unable to catch a break and find a decent job was one thing, but to discover that he was doing it as means of supporting the one he loves made his character even more sympathetic. It was made clear that Edwards was a decent, hardworking man who was willing to whatever it takes, including walking in the hot streets all day, in order to make a living. His wife’s dedication to her husband was also moving. Her willingness to do whatever she could to lighten her husband’s burden made it clear that their partnership stemmed from a place of love.
Although Edwards came to this town as a civil engineer under the impression that he would be able to find work, he is unable to do so. After a year of searching he exhausts all of his options. Dunbar-Nelson makes this characters struggle clear. He has done everything he can but the world around him refuses to give him a chance to succeed. His story is not unique. In fact, it is clearly representative of all African Americans struggling to make a life for themselves in this time. To further this point, that to be black in America during this time is to be disenfranchised, Edwards’ almost doesn’t get a job as a waiter at a restaurant even though he is extremely over qualified. No matter how qualified he is, or will ever be, a white person will always win over him because of the color of their skin. This was the moment when the story began to make me angry. Even as a person who knew completely well that this was the reality of the time, to read it in print struck me viscerally.
Despite being underappreciated Edwards does his best to do his job as a waiter, in order to maintain a life for him and his wife. He tells his wife that it’s only a temporary job, but the insidious reality is that it probably isn’t. Then, just when the reader is lead to believe that his fate is sealed, Edwards ends up serving the very man that denied him a position in the type of work he was qualified for. In order to cement the point that whites will always see themselves a superior to blacks, Dunbar-Nelson writes the man to say, “I’m glad you found a place to work…which you would be more fitted than engineering”. This was the moment that my anger aligned with the Edwards’, which I think is a testamate to the effective storytelling of the piece. I felt a sense of relief when Edwards decides to attack the man. However this leads to his getting arrested, which is rooted in the reality of what would actually happen (if not worse).
From beginning to end Edwards’ actions are completely justified in my opinion, which gives the story validity. Even if Black people do everything right, their fate is destined for failure. In a final act of defeat, Edwards’ wife visits him in prison and tells him she’ll wait for him, however long it takes for him to go free. Although the characters speak as though there might be hope for them in the future, the truth in that assumption is left purposefully ambiguous. Although I found the story as a whole to be deeply upsetting, I was enthralled all the way through. This story instructed the reader on the truths of the African American experience in a way that was well constructed and effortlessly heartbreaking.