The ballad of black Tom





The ballad of black Tom

The Ballad of Black Tom is a fantasy story written by Victor Lavelle giving his story from the view of a black man. The book is appealing because of the characters and how historical fiction is expressed. The book uses a line of dialogue to give a one on one view for the reader to understand better. The book is inspired by Lovecraft and rebukes racism at the same time. The author does a great job of transporting readers to New York. The city plays in character where everything that he does in New York is expressed vividly. The author makes the reader connect with the main character and even end up getting attached. The Ballad of Black addresses the concerns of the black people in America through the use of empathy and showing the triumphs that the people in the community go through. 

The book was set in Harlem in 1924 during the renaissance where the book stars a 20 years old Tommy who is a hustler in the streets and lives with his sick father. The story uses a third person with the first part using Tommy’s perspective and the second part uses the detective’s perspective. The first part starts with Tommy delivering a yellow book to a woman in Queens. One month later two police officers question Tommy about the wealthy white man who had offered him a large amount of money to allow him to play his guitar. Tommy becomes ignorant and as they leave one of the detectives says that he suspects Tommy had stolen a page from Ma Att’s book to ensure it does not use its magic. Tommy goes back to Harlem the following day and realizes that Mr. Howard had shot and killed his father while searching for the page of Ma Att’s book. Tommy ends up joining Suydam in his mission. The second part is expressed in Malone’s view. 

The book is associated with great complex entities that way beyond human understanding. Ballad says that malice is the order and he explains how he does not like crafty people. The inversion is a structural means to bring out the story in an interesting manner. When reading the book, it is easier to think that as much as we have an issue with discrimination of color; people also play part in identifying colors with a specific meaning. Growing up children know that pink represents girls and blue boys (Horwitz-White, par1). The color spectrum begins from childhood. The choice of words by the author during the narration is needed not to want. New York is expressed as a country full of injustice, exploitation, and police brutality. 

Injustice is the main theme in most African American narratives in the United States. The narratives talk about issues ranging from slavery to segregation explaining the struggles of the blacks’ population (Greyirish, par8). The black population has struggled with getting a place in the community is the minority population facing prejudice. The black community is misrepresented and inequality is quite evident. The narrative expresses injustice which makes Tommy transform into black Tom. The cruelty of the world drives him to the darkest times of his life. When Tommy first moves to New York, he is not sure of what to find. The author says that many people who go to New York make the same mistake because they cannot see it. They go looking for the magic whether good or bad (LaValle, 9). 

When talking of black entitlement, racism plays a key issue. For years African Americans did not enjoy what most African Americans enjoy. In this decade that we live in with all the struggle that African Americans went through then entitlement is not bad. They state that socialism of racism refers to the study of the connection between racism, racial inequality and discrimination. Racial inequality deals with inequitable outcomes of races in sectors such as education, health and income. During the Jim Crow era, African Americans were being treated in hospitals that were in deplorable state. They could not vote and when they were allowed to vote then one needed to know how to read and write. After the struggle African Americans have attained a certain level of equality although so much still needs to be done. The entitlement that most refer to is that when African Americans air their grievances even when it is not about race issue people will find a way to make it about race. With racial inequality and racial discrimination being key there are very many injustices that African Americans have gone through and are still going through. In the current decade one may still find people of color earning less than whites. Police brutality is also a scenario that paints a picture of racial inequality and racial discrimination. The book looks at the various racial struggles that African American go through the lens of several characters from the text.

The struggles of the black community are seen through the main character who lives with his sick father. He struggles to take care of his father by every means possible. In the beginning, there is a rich old woman who claims to be looking for a book with black magic powers. Tommy convinces the woman that he has found the book. He dresses elegantly to fit in with the whites. When he is asked where he got the book he comes up with a story making it look like that he went through a lot of struggle to get the book. He tells her how he trades books like the one he acquired for her. (LaValle, 15). the novel expresses Victoria’s society as a world where the immigrants live giving it an atmosphere of crime. The book he delivers to her is old with yellow front and back cover. He did not know the meaning of the words written on the cover but did not care (LaValle, 15). 

Among the main issue that Tommy experiences just like all blacks are trying to fit in His way of dressing gives him an advantage by pretending to be a musician. The author jokes that he probably did not know anything about Jazz yet he was pretending to be a jazz musician. A few days later in Brooklyn, he is offered a large amount of money to play guitar at a party that Suydam would be holding. 

The black community is the victim’s first suspicion in case of a crime. That is among the issues that many black people experience. After Tommy gets paid to play guitar at Suydam’s party, he is approached by two police officers who were following Suydam. They assault Tommy while one of them claims that he suspects that he tore a page from the book with powers. On the way home, he also gets harassed by white kids playing in their area and they only leave him when he nears Suydam estate. The approach by the police looks at themes of alienation and otherness. It looks at how black men are often alienated because of the stereotype that has been developed about them. The believe that he is a suspect for the crime simply because of his skin color. Thus is what most African Americans go through as they are profiled for crimes just because of their skin color.

The author tries to express the dangers of crossing segregation lines. The main character Tommy faces danger every time he leaves Harlem and crosses into the area dominated by the whites. During the 19th century, urban planning in American cities was based on segregation. Jim Crow laws formalized segregation in the South where such laws were not there. The laws ensured that the black people and the whites did not live in the same place (Lavalle, par1). Although the Jim Crows era are not existent and there are no longer restrictions on schools or offices that the African Americans should attend, the issue on segregation can still be felt may years later. There are still neighborhoods that are dominantly white and when a black is seen, they are suspected to be criminals. There are African Americans that have been gunned down as being mistaken to being criminals for just being in a different neighborhood.

Loss of authentic self is another theme in the story due to the loss of identity by Tommy Tester. There is a great risk of losing sight of oneself as a black person in a white community. Tommy creates a new image where he is known as Black Tom and the rage that he had created in him makes him a threat to everyone. The suffering that Tommy goes through makes him angry at the world and decides to become a bad person. 

The themes in the ballad of the black Tom correspond with the genre of the American literature because they express the issues that the black community faces. The themes range from society racism, imbalance of power and injustice. African-American Literature is as a result of the African heritage coming from different countries. It is easy to think that African American literature is similar to postcolonial literature although the difference comes in because African American literature is written for the minority groups. African-American genre is rich in poetry. It incorporates all the forms of poetry ranging from songs. Some of the writers ensure that they do not use the Western literary theory because they feel it betrays the lines of African-American literature.

 The genre traces the origin of the black community. Most African-American literature has the theme of showing the role of African Americans in a society where the major people are whites. In the story of The Ballad of Black Tom, it starts with a white old woman who purchases a book from Tommy. The lady had been searching for the book for a long time and when Tommy overhears, he tells her that he could the book for her. He explains the hustle that he had to go through to get the book showing how the black community indulges in dangerous activities to fend for themselves (Clark, par3). In an area where only the white people dominate, the black people end up doing manual jobs to fend themselves (Ziabari, par1). This is still the case in the modern world as African Americans seem to take on odd jobs while the whites take on white collar jobs. This has been contributed by inequality which subjects African American to insufficient resources such as schools which lead them eventually not being as qualified as whites. In many cases, black people are the first suspects in case of a crime. It is evident in the story where Tommy is approached by two policemen. The policemen harass him and even end up claiming that they suspect him for the stolen page of the book. This also brings the idea of police brutality towards African Americans. For the longest time, African Americans have often been oppressed by criminal justice system with laws such as stop and frisk by police used to undermine them.

“On being brought from Africa to America” is a poem by Phyllis Wheately that relates to the Ballad of Black Tom. It was published in 1773 describing a story of a young girl who was taken to American colonies and enslaved. The poem is used to show that every person is capable of getting salvation through Christianity. The author of the poem uses the bible to express his point. She expresses the difficulties that African Americans went through although it was different as her main theme was slavery, there is similarity on prejudice that African Americans went through in the hands of the whites. From the beginning of the poem, the author expresses the happiness of Wheatley for leaving Africa. Just like in the Ballad of black, Tommy was also glad to get into New York although he was not sure of what to expect. In the poem, the author pays more attention to how the bigger population consisted of pagans. Mercy plays the role of a slave trader who sells people for their benefit (Wheatley, par3). In the end, her journey to the American colony acts as a calling for her to seek Christ.

The African-American literature expresses the black community as the minority having less freedom among the whites. The blacks are discriminated against and are not treated the same as the rest of the people. Sympathy is a poem that describes a bird caught up in a cage stuck without the freedom to get out. It is the same as being locked in a cell. The same case applies to Tommy who tries to fit in the white community. He goes to the extent of dressing up like a musician so that he can blend in with the rest of the people. 

The bird stuck in the cage flaps its wings and starts singing due to the misery that it was going through. The poem is not speaking only about a stuck bird. The bird is a metaphor representing the poor Africans locked up in the misery of oppression, injustice, and segregation (Wheatley). A person can ask themselves why they should care about a bird caught in a cage. However, racism is a form of discrimination where people are discriminated against due to their color. Unlike now, there were times that America was a land of white people. Several changes have taken place since then but one cannot say that everything has changed in favor of the black people. Without knowing everything that transpired during colonial times, it is hard to understand what people felt. They felt like the bird in the cage. Tommy from the story of the Ballad of black goes through the same triumph and ends up in a point that he gets so angry and decides to be a bad influence and danger to society.

“I Too” is a poem by Langston Hughes focusing on African American identity in America. It gives the history of oppression of black people through slavery and injustice. The song starts with the author saying that even the black people are worthy to be American too (Spacey, par3). The fist singer speaks a message of hope that things will change. The issue of black rights is brought up. 

The black communities who are the minority in America continue to get discriminated from the people, law enforcement, and employers. Most of them are not lucky enough to get a quality education or decent jobs. According to the ballad of Black Tom, the main character shows the struggles that the black community goes through. The problems that he goes through push him to the extent that he decides to change his identity to black Tom who was a threat to the community. Although things have evolved and racism is not the way it used to be in the old times, equality has not yet been established. If equality is not established completely, the black people will continue to see the white people as their enemy and the white people will keep blaming them for pulling them back. 

Work cited

Ziabari, Kourosh, et al. “Being Black in America.” Fair Observer, 9 Jan. 2019,

Spacey, Andrew. “Analysis of Poem ‘I,Too’ by Langston Hughes.” Owlcation, Owlcation, 10 Jan. 2020,

“On Being Brought from Africa to America Summary & Analysis by Phillis Wheatley.” LitCharts,

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Sympathy Introduction.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008,

Lavalle, Victor. “The Ballad of Black Tom Themes.” SuperSummary,

Horwitz-White, Jon. “Docility and Rage: Exploring Performance and Blackness in ‘The Ballad of Black Tom.’” Fiction Unbound, Fiction Unbound, 14 Oct. 2016,

Greyirish. “‘The Ballad of Black Tom’ (2016) by Victor LaValle.” Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein, 13 Apr. 2019, deepcuts. blog/2019/04/13/the-ballad-of-black-tom-2016-by-victor-lavalle/.

Clark, Chloe N., and Chloe N. Clark. “Monsters and Men: Empathy in Victor LaValle’s Ballad of Black Tom.” The Ploughshares Blog,

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