NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 119

This was an attitude that he understood, although he had not encountered it lately. This man expected to meet somebody white; when he discovered that he was dealing with a Negro, he “knew” that the job wouldn’t be done. (Barrett 1963, 69) There is no reference in the novel here to the demeaning language of “boy,” but, instead, the chapter is used to develop Homer’s psychological doubt: whether or not he can accomplish the task of constructing the chapel. Furthermore, the narrator in the novel shows Homer’s remembering the “sentence” that “kept repeating itself like an outside voice speaking to him,” the sentence that predicted that “He’d let old Mother down merely by being black.” (Barrett 1963, 72) In general, the film is built on the “chemistry” between Poitier as the reluctant worker and Skala as the resolute, stern nun bent on Homer’s building a chapel. The positioning of Homer as African American, usually symbolic of denied class privilege, is undercut by the extreme austerity of Mother Maria, who chastises Homer, whom she labels “Wall Street,” for wanting his “breakfast in bed,” and talking like an “American millionaire.” (Lilies of the Field, Drew’s) On the other hand, as Les and Barbara Keyser observe: …there is the undercurrent present that the nuns would be lost without a Protestant male laborer to save their vision and realize their dream. Alone, they are holy but ineffectual. It takes Homer to do the heroics. (Keyser 1984, 143) This process of dream realization, however, is fraught with numerous tense moments between Mother Maria and Poitier, who calls her Momma, such as when she refuses to say “Thank you,” when Homer brings grocery supplies. This sort of dueling extends as well to religious matters, when Homer, trying to claim his wages for two days work, uses his own Bible to translate Luke 10:6: “for the laborer is worthy of his hire.” Mother Maria counters with Proverbs 1:4: “Cast in thy lot amongst us; let us all have one purse.” The next verse, Matthew 6:28-29 contains the film’s title: “Why take thee thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Not needing his Bible to recall it, Homer, showing his Biblical acumen, recites these lines suggested by Mother Maria. Later, in response to a request by Mother Maria that he attend Mass, however, he maintains that he is Baptist, not a Catholic. In fact, when Mother Maria makes the sign of the cross in response to Homer’s exclamation of “dammit,” Homer replies “cut that out,” as if he had been given some esoteric cult-like sign of admonishment (Lilies of the Field, Drew’s). BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Interestingly, the novel gives a different development to the racial context of the visit to the construction company, which, in Chapter 4 of the novel, is called the Livingston Construction Company. Its owner, Orville Livingston, suggests his racial attitudes in a more subtle manner, such as when he says, “‘I expected a different type,’” after discovering that Homer is the one chosen to build the chapel. The narrator offers an internal view of Homer’s thoughts at this moment: In the film, however, the use of “boy versus man” language occurs in certain tense scenes between Homer and Mother Maria, as when he accuses her of sounding like a “regular Hitler” and ends with “[Y]ou get yourself another boy.” Later, this racial moment is compounded when Ashton, inquiring about Homer’s departure following the argument with Mother Maria, suggests that his leaving is the result of his being “shiftless and irresponsible,” the often heard stereotype for black males, echoing parts in the novel’s Chapter 4. Even though race is not referred to directly, when Ashton says, “You know the type,” it is implied in the sarcastic line from Ashton, which also plays on black masculinity. The line “He’s a pretty good man with a bulldozer,” however, also implies that Ashton does in fact consider Homer as a “man,” but only under circumstances relating to labor productivity. (Lilies of the Field, Drew’s) 117 Also, Homer as contractor is given visual representation at a later point in the film, when he is shown examining construction-like blueprints and ordering the Mexican workers to follow his plans (Lilies of the Field, Drew’s).