Race has repeatedly influenced peoples vision of human traits and capacities. Individuals that are driven by racism believe that there is a superior race due to several racial differences. Racism has been and still is a challenge to most societies worldwide. More often than not, people observe bigotry and are intrigued to write about it with diverse goals such as determining its causes, forms or various ways of dealing with this social problem. Literature does not spare anything in its attempt to reveal even the most unpleasant aspects of life. The history of the United States has had painful occurrences such as violence, discrimination, and exclusion among others. Most actions that took place in the United States history are depicted in American literature. Thus, it gives readers an opportunity to perceive what the nation was like then and see what has changed and what has not. Racism is a dark spot in American history and heritage with various American literary works addressing the theme of racism including its causes, effects, and ways of dealing with it.
Racism in American Literature
Several minor themes are evident in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee,but the primary theme is racism. The occurrences throughout the book prove the foundations and effects of a racist society. The Depression era was highly characterized by racism whereby blacks did not have a say in the society. Harpers book proves the theme of racism by describing the distinct town areas, which were restricted to whites, while others were particularly intended for the blacks. Additionally, the courthouse had a physical separation of black and white people. Evidently, blacks were associated with minority and could not be granted rights that white people enjoyed. For instance, Tom Robinson is accused of sexual assault on a white woman and is represented in Court by Atticus. Atticus does his job very well and provides the court with evidence that proves Robinsons innocence, but the jury still finds him guilty. In such a way, the effects of a racist society are proven in Harpers story.
Due to Robinsons skin color, the jury refused to support what is right and just. Tom Robinson is an innocent man, but his skin blinds and biases the jurys decision. His lawyer Atticus states, The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant. The defendant is not guilty, but somebody in this courtroom is. During Robinsons trial, Mr. Raymonds story also shows that a significant share of Maycomb residents is blinded by skin color. Mr. Raymonds wife and children are black and of mixed color respectively. The residents of Maycomb do not acknowledge Raymond as a part of the society because he is associated with a minority race. Since most people do not approve of his mixed family, Raymond pretends to be an alcoholic who strolls around town for people to understand his reasons for marrying a black woman. Raymonds story proves that taking any action that would benefit the black people or show that they are mere human beings just as the rest of the society was not allowed. Harpers book proves that racism does not have any positive effects.
In other literary works, race is used to defend the actions of people. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, racism is seen as the foundation of black people slavery. It is a predominant theme in Twains book. The books idea is that superiority is measured according to races. Hence, black people are termed as inferior and subhuman. The term inferior is used by slaveholders and white racists while they oppress black people for huge profits. Jim is taken away from his family to be a slave, and the slaveholders claim that their actions cannot be judged since black people are mentally inferior as compared to white people. Therefore, the theme of racism is manifested through slavery in Twains book. Black people are considered to be unintelligent, immature, irresponsible, and physically active, which is a racist perception that lays the grounds for abuse. Moreover, black men are referred to as three-fifths men. Miss Watson, a staunch Christian from a wealthy family in St. Petersburg, prides in her Christian beliefs. Nevertheless, she keeps Jim in slavery and plans on selling him to the cotton plantations in the deep south of New Orleans where slaves are overworked in extremely harsh working conditions.
Evidently, Miss Watson disregards the Christian values of mercy and kindness. This example demonstrates that the theme of racism also reveals hypocrisy. Miss Watson claims to be a Christian but takes Jim as a slave and considers selling him to other people who require slaves in exchange for money. Jim flees Miss Watsons house in attempt to escape slavery and meets Huck. However, Huck continuously blames himself for refusing to tell the truth about Jims escape from slavery, which is evident on page 97 where he states, Conscience says to me What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean? I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead.
Later on, he realizes that Jim is much better than most friends he had made. This proves that black people are humane and morally upright. White racists and slaveholders torture black people all in the name of color but are unable to realize that they are morally affecting themselves by failing to understand what it is to be human. Twains book was written at a time when racism was widely accepted and black people were perceived as emotionless beings. It is evident, for instance, in the conversation of Huck and Aunt Sally about the steamboat explosion. Huck questions his aunt regarding the number of deaths and Aunt Sally answers by ascertaining that nobody died only one nigger. This shows that white people have no concern or respect for a black man. Additionally, Twain uses the word nigger, which proves that racism was a widely acceptable act.
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The Help by Kathryn Stockett is another masterpiece that shows how racism has invaded the life of Jackson town in Mississippi. In the 1960s, the laws of Jim Crow allowed for segregation and discrimination through racism, which also justified abuse. White women emotionally abused and exploited black maids, since they believed that blacks are inferior and fundamentally different as compared to white people. Additionally, black people were not allowed to sit with white people or touch them, since the latter believed that they were unclean and could transmit infectious diseases. Institutional racism is dominant in Stocketts work. Chapter one proves that Hilly wanted to pass institutional laws and requested Mississippis Surgeon General to endorse them. A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help. Ive even notified the surgeon general of Mississippi to see if hell endorse the idea. Ill pass. The theme of racism evidently shows how black people are discriminated against and segregated. The novel demonstrates how racism is passed on from one generation to the next when white children are not allowed to use black crayons in coloring exercises, since it is associated with dirt.
The novel also shows that it is possible to fight racism with the example of one character that assists black maids to publish their stories about experiences of working for white families. Miss Skeeter risks segregation and discrimination by helping black maids, since she realizes that they are humans with intelligence and emotions just like the white people. Color blinds characters and makes them believe that they are superior to black people. Kathryn Stocketts novel shows the prevalence of racism in their town and how it can be fought.
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The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kiddembraces equality by presenting a fourteen-year-old white girl, Lily Owens, who lives in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement. The title of the book is metaphorical; bees represent Lilys birth mother, Deborah, who died when she was a little girl. Kidd proves that regardless of the several adverse effects of racism, it can stir something positive depending on the individuals attitude to it. After the Civil Rights Act was signed, the United States government could defend the societal and legal rights of the black people. They could vote, eat in public restaurants and do so much more that was impossible prior to the signing of the act. Regardless of the Civil Rights Act, racist whites believed that black people did not deserve the rights they had been granted. In some instances, blacks were murdered for taking part in the voting registration process, arrested by racial sheriffs, and bullied for eating in all-white restaurants. Kidds book proves the prevalence of racism in the society. He states An uneasy feeling settled in my stomach. Last night the television had said a man in Mississippi was killed for registering to vote. The theme of racism in Kidds novel portrays the effects of this social phenomenon. African-Americans were harassed, beaten for no reason, and sometimes killed on the watch of police officers.
Additionally, others were killed for trying to fight back. For instance, Rosaleen is occasionally bullied but still refuses to accept the unfair treatment, which leads to more complications in her life. The bullies beat her to the point of hospital admission but surprisingly, she is charged with a criminal offense. The Civil Rights Act did not do much because African-Americans were assumed to be slaves and could neither own property nor enjoy the rights that white people had. Towards the end of the book, Lily meets Zach, a handsome black man. Till that time, Lily had never believed that black people could be beautiful, which is a racist perception. Back at their school, Lily and her schoolmates thought that African-Americans have big noses and lips that made them ugly. Page 116 of Kidds book demonstrates that Lily and her previous classmates were racists. If he was shocked over me being white, I was shocked over him being handsome. At my school they made fun of colored peoples lips and noses. I myself laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in. Now I wished I could pen a letter to my school to be read at opening assembly that would tell them how wrong wed all been. The sight of Zach makes her wish she could show her former schoolmates how mistaken they were. Zach and Lily try to fight racism by urging people to try and change the world by taking pride in their skin which is evident on page 216 when Zach says, We cant think of changing our skin... Change the world thats how we gotta think.
Black Boy by Richard Wrightwas written in the first half of the twentieth century. Wrights writing was greatly influenced by the socio-cultural conditions of when he was born. The theme of racism is highly prevalent in the novel. Richard Wright grew in the period when Jim Crow laws were active and there were two races, the blacks and the whites. Being a young boy, he never understood the difference between those two races, which got him in trouble several times. He questioned too much that is evident in Black Boys chapter one. It might have been that my tardiness in learning to sense white people as white people came from the fact that most of my relatives were white-looking people. My grandmother, who was white as any white person had never looked white to me. Later on, he claims that his mother could not stand his questions about race. He says, I had begun to notice that my mother became irritated when I questioned her about whites and blacks, and I could not quite understand it. The theme of racism in Wrights book demonstrates the difficulty of survival in the south for an African-American. Throughout his life, blacks are publicly harassed by white people. When Wright became older, he realized that being white came with privileges. White people were able to apply in high-ranking jobs, and their children could attend schools where they learned how to read and write.
At the same time, black people were allowed to occupy only particular towns and were believed to be criminals. Therefore, white families treated blacks with disrespect since they were assumed to be thieves and liars. White people held racially oppressive views which did more harm to the blacks. Wright quits his job at Cranes eyeglass shop after being threatened by Reynolds and Pease. Every African-American in the south was at risk when Jim Crows laws of segregation and discrimination were in effect. For instance, Ned was killed in Jackson, Mississippi for sleeping with a white prostitute, and Aunt Maggies boyfriend was forced to flee Arkansas after daring to fight the white forces supremacy. Being an African-American got individuals in danger even when they did not do anything wrong. The theme of racism is also evident when Shorty pretends to be a clown to make more money and gain favors in Memphis. Clearly, white men could never do favors for black people because of their skin.
Evidently, racism is a social issue that continues to affect the world to date. Currently, some individuals cannot engage in business activities with black people, since blacks are assumed to be unintelligent and immature. The analysis of five books connected by the same primary theme has proved that racism was dominant in America and it was a regular act to see a black person being harassed. Harper Lees book explains how Raymond had to act like the countys drunkard to evade judgment for marrying a black woman and having kids with her. Twain shows that black men were perceived as three-fifths men and therefore could not handle manly duties. Wrights book together with Kidds book demonstrates that African-Americans were always in trouble for crimes they had not committed. Black people were associated with inferiority and had to endure slavery, prejudice, and discrimination. Past racial injustices affecting people of color is a major prevalent issue in todays society that needs equally aggressive measures to be resolved.