Julia Maxwell
Mrs. Wilburn
English 11 Honors
6 February 2017
History; Something That Will Unfortunately Repeat Itself
From slavery, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the present-day protests, equality for all races has yet to be achieved. Nina Simone was the author and singer of the song "Four Women" from the album Wild in the Wind. Analyzing this song through the new historicist lens can raise many interesting perspectives. The new historicist/cultural lens analyzes how social activities and the time period affected how the literature was written (Shmoop Editorial Team). New Historicists work to study how literature reflects its historical and sociocultural context (Shmoop Editorial Team). Through the eyes of the New Historicist lens, "Four Women" uses African American stereotypes to take a strong stance on civil rights. Simone's aspiration was to make bold statements about sexual abuse and angry women in the hope of making society aware of obvious maltreatment and injustice. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Simone created four archetypal characters in her song to express how the slavery legacy lives on, so long after abolition.
The political movements of the 1960's and the unfair treatment of African Americans inspired Simone to write a song intended to empower African American women, although, much to Simone's dismay, some thought the song was degrading. In 1966, "Four Women" was written and released. It was the same year the Black Panther Party started (Shmoop Editorial Team). It was a big year. Stokely Carmichael first addressed the idea of "Black Power" in a speech and, at the same time, the NAACP rejected those ideas (Shmoop Editorial Team). It was no coincidence that Simone released "Four Women" that very year. The Jim Crow era was also an inspiration behind the song. It was the era after abolition and before the Civil Rights Movement (Shmoop Editorial Team). Simone's song went right along with the progressive movements of the sixties. "Thalami Davis of The Village Voice called the song ‘an instantly accessible analysis of the damning legacy of slavery, that made iconographic the real women we knew and would become'" (Four Women (song)). Her words inspired and touched others to keep persevering through the brutal fight that was the Civil Rights Movement. Others, though, did not believe her song was tolerant, but thought it was racist (Shmoop Editorial Team). Simone meant to highlight and bring awareness to the injustices of African Americans, not glorify it. The way she made her stance for equality was through highlighting four African American archetypes to portray a much deeper meaning than simply a story.
The first three archetypal characters in "Four Women" were meant to raise awareness about the cruelty and dehumanization African American women faced during slavery, mirroring the maltreatment African Americans were receiving during the Civil Rights Movement. In the song, Nina first introduced Aunt Sarah (Shmoop Editorial Team). She is enslaved and, "strong enough to take the pain/inflicted again and again" (5-6). The title of Aunt follows the archetypical mammy figure like Aunt Jemima. Simone hoped to bring awareness to the dehumanizing factors of that life; being abused, yet forcing herself to stay strong to bring hope for the ones she kept under her care. The next two characters, Saffronia and Sweet Thing, show how innumerable African American women were sexually abused. Saffronia represents a child of rape, and her "[…] father was rich and white/he forced [her] mother late one night" (15-16). Many enslaved Africans were raped by their white slave-owners. The character Sweet Thing is a sex worker, "whose little girl am I?/anyone who has money to buy" (24-25). She did not get to choose this life and the issues of consent were entangled in her portrayal. Through these characters, Simone shows how cruelly African American women were treated during slavery. Her goal was to make everyone aware of these injustices, so they would join the movement. She also uses her song to show how slavery affected the lives of African Americans at this time.
Simone uses the last character to express the anger of all generations under enslavement and even those that followed. The Civil Rights Movement left a bitter mark on American history and still affects lives today. Peaches is the last character of "Four Women," and "[her] life