Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 14
Oscar’s Words: Read Oscar Micheaux’s First Novel
“I was struck by the beauty of the scenery and it seemed to charm and bring me out of the spirit of depression the sandy stretch brought upon me. Stretching for miles to the northwest and to the south, the land would rise in a gentle slope to a hog back, and as gently slope away to a draw, which drained to the south. Here the small streams emptied into a larger one, winding along like a snake’s track, and thickly wooded with a growth of small hardwood timber. It was beautiful. From each side the land rose gently like huge wings, and spread away as far as the eye could reach.” ~ The Conquest, by Oscar Micheaux
Oscar Micheaux wrote his first novel, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer, in 1912 and self-published it in 1913. Part memoir, part fiction, the book tells the story of homesteader Oscar “Devereaux.” The real town of Gregory becomes Megory; Dallas becomes Calias. Anyone who lived in the area would have had no problem recognizing not only real towns but real people and events.
A study guide for The Conquest from the South Dakota State Library describes the novel’s engaging voice and historical value:
“The form of the book itself is ambiguous. Is it a novel or is it autobiography? Micheaux himself probably gave little thought to the matter. Dashing off thousands of words a day in the heat of emotion, he simply wanted to capture his own experience, realize some emotional catharsis after his deeply displeasing confrontations with his father-in-law, and express some of his viewpoints about racial pride and opportunities for economic betterment. The result was less than a polished, finely wrought literary masterpiece, but it was genuinely felt, lively, and authentic. We can be certain that, with minor exceptions, the story being told adhered closely to the facts as the author understood and remembered them.”
The study guide offers an overview of Micheaux’s life, an introduction to the novel, several excellent questions for reflection, and a discussion of the book’s five themes:
- Micheaux’s life story
- The philosophy of Booker T. Washington
- Small towns
- The search for love
You can read The Conquest in several ebook formats or online through Project Gutenberg. Here is a taste of what you’ll find:
DEALIN’ IN MULES
It must have been about the twentieth of April when I finished building. I started to “batch” and prepared to break out my claim. Having only one horse, it became necessary to buy another team. I decided to buy mules this time. I remembered that back on our farm in southern Illinois, mules were thought to be capable of doing more work than horses and eat less grain. So when some boys living west of me came one Sunday afternoon, and said they could sell me a team of mules, I agreed to go and see them the next day. I thought I was getting wise. As proof of such wisdom I determined to view the mules in the field. I followed them around the field a few times and although they were not fine looking, they seemed to work very well. Another great advantage was, they were cheap, only one hundred and thirty-five dollars for the team and a fourteen-inch-rod breaking plow. This looked to me like a bargain. I wrote him a check and took the mules home with me. Jack and Jenny were their names, and I hadn’t owned Jack two days before I began to hate him. He was lazy, and when he went down hill, instead of holding his head up and stepping his front feet out, he would lower the bean and perform a sort of crow-hop. It was too exasperating for words and I used to strike him viciously for it, but that didn’t seem to help matters any.
I shall not soon forget my first effort to break prairie. There are different kinds of plows made for breaking the sod. Some kind that are good for one kind of soil cannot be used in another. In the gummy soils of the Dakotas, a long slant cut is the best. In fact, about the only kind that can be used successfully, while in the more sandy lands found in parts of Kansas and Nebraska, a kind is used which is called the square cut. The share being almost at right angles with the beam instead of slanting back from point to heel. Now in sandy soils this pulls much easier for the grit scours off any roots, grass, or whatever else would hang over the share. To attempt to use this kind in wet, sticky land, such as was on my claim, would find the soil adhering to the plow share, causing it to drag, gather roots and grass, until it is impossible to keep the plow in the ground. When it is dry, this kind of plow can be used with success in the gummy land; but it was not dry when I invaded my homestead soil with my big horse, Jenny and Jack, that first day of May, but very wet indeed. Read More
Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.