Reference Entry

Cain, George

Virginia Whatley Smith

in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780195138832
Cain, George

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Little information exists about George Cain other than from his autobiographical novel Blueschild Baby. He speaks through his alter ego, and in effect, Cain utilizes the trope of the doppleganger or “double” popularized by German writers and by African American historian W. E. B. Du Bois in his theory of double consciousness.Born during October or November 1943, Cain grew up in Harlem and showed academic promise as an adolescent. He entered Iona College (New Rochelle, N.Y.) on a basketball scholarship but left to travel in California, Mexico, and Texas. Upon returning to New York in 1966, Cain started Blueschild Baby and spent four years completing the project. In the interim, he married and moved to Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn with his wife, Jo Lynne, and daughter, Nataya, to whom he dedicates the work.Blueschild Baby is a blues refrain of suffering delineating the hero's addiction to heroin. Originally published in 1970, its popularity resurged in the mid-1990s because of recognition by African American scholars of Cain's prescient message. Drug addiction still ravages the African American community, though its cause is crack cocaine. The reader is introduced on the first page of the novel to the hero, Georgie Cain, in the throes of withdrawal—alternate dreamfulness and wakefulness, a runny nose, and a queasy stomach that signal he needs a fix. Georgie the parolee shows fear of the police because a drug infraction would return him to prison for another two years.Blueschild Baby, however, is also an autobiographical novel of emancipation similar to the slave narrative, but the white master this time is “horse,” the street name for heroin. In its progression from Georgie's enslavement to freedom from drugs, the novel incorporates archetypal devices attendant to quests—the hero's journey to salvation, his death-rebirth experience, and his redemption by triumphing over evil. The work also parallels Native Son with its viewpoint limited to the hero's perspective as he struggles against naturalistic forces threatening to expose or kill him during Georgie's drug adventures on the streets of Harlem, Brooklyn, or New Jersey.Temporal shifts reflect Georgie's sane or disoriented thinking according to his drug intake. Past and present oscillate as do Georgie's physical or psychological movements when he returns to his Harlem childhood, New Jersey home, or private school experiences. Black Harlem would seem to be the archetypal site that had fostered Georgie's drug problem, but that is the ironic twist to Georgie's journey to self-knowledge. He actually begins to use drugs recreationally while attending Brey Academy, a white private school where he is one of two African American students. Hashish relieves the pressures of feeling economically displaced or scholastically and athletically mandated to be a basketball hero. Hard drugs inevitably become Georgie's coping device to handle these racial adjustments. At the end, a black woman, Nandy, is Georgie's salvation. Blueschild Baby is a gripping narrative of emancipation from drugs.

Reference Entry.  534 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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