Lemonade: The Alchemy of Reappropriating Agency and Rebellion Cate Mabry

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

Zora Neale Hurston

Beyoncé Knowles new visual album Lemonade can be approached as a modernized version of the Afro-American pregeneric myth about the search for freedom and literacy. This journey, explains Septo, “is charted through spatial expressions of social structure, invariably systems of signs that the questing figure must read in order to be both increasingly literate and increasingly free” (5). Reappropriating freedom and literacy in exchange for female liberation and racial justice, Knowles takes her audience though a series of self-discovery within a historicized landscape. This ritualized journey ends with the “articulate hero” overcoming the oppressive conditions of a society that leave her in isolation.

By tracing direct correlations between Lemonade and Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, we can see how the condition of being black and a female in America produces the same problems and struggles almost eighty years later, “Janie’s narrative in Their Eyes reflects the Black female blues esthetic—the very direct use to which Black Women put language and song, in order, as critic Joanne Braxton states, to ‘transcend the most brutal, painful and personal of disasters in daily life and go on fighting—strong and alive’” (Bethel 13). Transcending genre, Lemonade deserves recognition as a significant contribution to both Pop Culture and Academia. By examining the philosophical, literary, and historical influences upon the visual album, it becomes evident that this relatively new concept of music and performance repurposes many existing racial problems in a way that is accessible and relevant today.

We are reminded by Lukacs, “Lyric poetry can ignore the phenomenalisation of the first nature and can create a protean mythology of substantial subjectivity out of the constitutive strength of its ignorance” (63).
This unknowable nature is precisely what makes the narrative so compelling. The endless possibilities of meaning wind up characterizing the work in its entirety, further developing the overriding theme of black female empowerment.

By shedding her “Queen Bea” persona, we see one of the most powerful women, of any ethnicity, within the public sphere bravely share her vulnerable side—a partial display of feminine weakness that is in direct opposition for everything she is traditionally associated with—feminist power and sex. Why would such an influential figure dismantle the very image that contributed to an unworldly height of fame? Precisely because she has been transformed into an image. Knowles’ cult following has endowed her with a responsibility—as a symbol of female empowerment within a black body, she bears a heavy weight upon her shoulders. “When a community becomes too complex to be justly represented by an individual symbol, they must find a new form of representation to signify the meaning of their collective existence,” Lukacs observes (83). What would it mean that this all-powerful being, worshipped as a goddess and the ideal of perfection, was the symbol of black women in America? This level of fame comes with a great amount of responsibility.

For Beyoncé to successfully act as a proponent for social awareness and change, she couldn’t remain a two-dimensional, flattened image of flawlessness. She had to be come real. To be reborn as a woman, as a black woman, with real troubles and psychological complexity, is the only way that her fame could be utilized as a vehicle for remembrance of the past and change, rather than a glorified reminder of what the typical woman is not.

Approaching her journey chronologically, we can trace the eleven steps that end with her redemption.

Ultimately a prescription for hope and change, this narrative oscillates through the very real battle of the mind and soul, capturing the beauty and complexity of raw emotion.

Throughout each of these episodes, several motifs capturing different aspects of the African American experience appear and reappear. It would take a book to examine all of these elements in detail, so, for time’s sake, I will focus on only one or two aspects per chapter. A completed version of this project would include cinematic, musical, lyrical, historical, psychological, and literary analysis of each chapter; however, I will limit analysis to the first three chapters in light of traditional African American works and the second to last in relation to contemporary pieces. By doing so, it will be come clear how literary influence opens the door to the analysis and criticism of these other disciplines.

Credits:

Created with images by Pexels - "citrus citrus fruit fruits" • _.Yann Cœuru ._ - "Le coureur" • totravelandbeyond - "marble background backdrop" • SILENTMONOLOGUE - "Beyonce" • martdiz - "beyonce <3"

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