Heart of Darkness, Melanctha, Untouchable, and Their Eyes Were Watching God all present images of a set of people different from the author. To differing extents the authors try to make the these “others” believable and to present their speech. While race is the defining characteristic in three of the novels, it is class that marks the dividing line in Untouchable.
The historical arc of these four novels with respect to race and class is one that shows an increasing degree of identification with the oppressed race or class. In Heart of Darkness Conrad does nothing to make the africans seems human. He includes common steroetypes of the time to insure they are seen as lesser than whites. In Melanctha Stein makes a concerted effort to illuminate the lives of blacks in America. However she still falls into the use of stereotypes and a dialect that assumes ignorance. Untouchable by Mulk Raj Ananad argues for the basic humanity of all people. There is little of the superior attitudes seen in Heart of Darkness and Melanctha. Their Eyes Were watching God takes a further step in not just dropping the racism, but by presenting african americans as fully realized people and not trying to excuse the faults of the characters.
Pheoby’s hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story. So she went on thinking back to her young years and explaining them to her friend in soft, easy phrases while all around the house, the night time put on flesh and blackness. (15)
This mirrors the story of Janie’s life as a child. She puts on flesh and blackness, not having seen herself as black.
Charat Singh’s generous promise had called forth that trait of servility in Bakha which he had inherited from his forefathers, the weakness of the down-trodden, the helplessness of the poor and the indigent, suddenly receiving help, the passive contentment of the bottom dog suddenly illuminated by the prospect of fulfillment of a secret and long-cherished desire. He saluted his benefactor and bent down to his work again. (17)
This not the only time at the start of the novel where we see the conditioned response of those with nothing in response to those who seem to have it all. Even Bakha, described as rebellious, can not deny this reaction and isn’t even aware of it.
Because I said If you wouldn’t keep on sawing and nailing at it until a man cant sleep even and her hands laying on the quilt like two of them roots dug up and tried to wash and you couldn’t get them clean. I can see the fan and Dewey Dell’s arm. I said if you’d just let her alone. Sawing and knocking, and keeping the air always moving so fast on her face that when you’retired you cant breathe it, and that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less. One lick less until everybody that passes in the road will have to stop and see it and say what a fine carpenter he is. If it had just been me when Cash fell off of that church and if it had just been me when pa laid sick with that load of wood fell on him, it would not be happening with every bastard in the county coming in to stare at her because if there is a God what the hell is He for. It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down the hill faces and teeth and all by God until she was quiet and not that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet. (13-14)
The first glimpse of Jewel is as a kind of robot. The second time he seems to have only one focus, the taming of the horse. But here we see Jewel with something nearing human emotional feeling for his dying mother.
They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him up against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water. The other five stood very quietly against the wall. Finally the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired the first volley he was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees. (51)
In this interchapter Hemingway uses almost no emotional language. It serves to heighten the emotion of what is actually happening.
“This is Lord Peter Wimsey, my dear, said Theophilus mildly.
She was unimpressed.
“Ah, yes,” she said, “I believe you are distantly related to my late cousin, the Bishop of Carisbrooke. Poor man! He was always being taken in by impostors; he died without ever leaning better. I imagine you take after him, Lord Peter.”
“I doubt it,” said Lord Peter. “So far as I know he is only a connection, though it’s a wise child that knows its own father.” (Sayers 25)
This exchange and te rest of the paragraph suggest that there is more to Peter Wimsey than there seems.
“I certainly never did see no man like you, Jeff. You always wanting to have it all clear out in words always, what everybody is always feeling. I certainly don’t see a reason, why I should always be explaining to you what I mean by what I am saying. And you ain’t got no feeling ever for me, to ask me what I meant, by what I was saying when I was so tired, that night. I never know anything right I was saying.”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 101. Print.
Stein here says what she’s being showing. The knowledge of what is in our head is not amenable to a simple outright explanation. This dialog gives a small glimpse into mind of Melanctha.
“I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness. `And, ever since, you have been with him, of course?’ I said”
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 165. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.
The thing that seems to Marlow the bleakest is not the suffering of the Africans, but the way that the Russian is enthralled by Kurtz.
Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being ‘like this’. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style…
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
“They never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation, and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to argue. How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind! After all, what is a fine lie? Simply that which is its own evidence. If a man is sufficiently unimaginative to produce evidence in support of a lie, he might just as well speak the truth at once.”
Oscar Wilde. “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions (London James R. Osgood McIlvaine & Co., 1889) 6
This is interesting to me because it calls out the difference between what Wilde was discussing, important lies, and the base lies of politics.