Tag Archives: race

Experience, Race, and Gender in Fiction

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Stein’s Melanctha (1909), Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) all explore the relationship of class and race. Through the 38 year span in which these novels were published, the gradual expression of race relations changes drastically.  Conrad explores the racial tensions tied to imperialism through Marlow’s close observation of Mr. Kurtz.  Stein stays close to home in her interperspective novel Melanctha, yet ties gender and class together while still depicting an ethnic alternative lifestyle.  Anand, while his novel was published much later, gives the audience a sense of what life is in India’s harsh caste system.  Untouchable explores class closely, but to an English audience, which introduced them to a world other than post-WWI American society.  Finally, Hurston thoroughly captures the relations of gender and race together in Janie Stark.  The novel focuses on her tribulations, instead of a broad sociological effects, allowing the harsh scenes of domestic abuse to expose hidden inequalities other than race.  Over time, fiction writers presented more topics that were not necessarily common knowledge, bringing them to the public eye.  While tackling cultural obstacles is nothing new in writing, the modernists relied on firsthand experience,  allowing for more raw, realistic stories that related to the audience.

Style and Race

Melanctha (1909), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), In Our Time (1925), As I Lay Dying (1930),

Even with the extensive amount of time between Melanctha, Mrs. Dalloway, and As I Lay Dying is separated by at most by 21 years the style of writing in a stream of the characters consciousness can be seen throughout. In Melanctha and Mrs. Dalloway nothing really breaks up the conversations and actions from one character to another, everything flows right into another, unlike in As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. In their books each chapter is broken up into separate pieces. For Faulkner each chapter we saw in the perspective of that one single character which helped form an individual idea about each character, whereas the stream of consciousness in Melanctha and Mrs. Dalloway was a continuous stream. In Our Time by Hemingway was also broken up into individual pieces like Faulkner’s. If you read the chapters that coincide with one another a different picture and story is seen. One of the biggest differences I saw within these books is between Melanctha and As I Lay Dying is when it came to race. These two books are published 21 years from one another. The differences in style can be seen from the way it was written, Faulkner’s style of different characters point of views as a chapter and Steins way of a continuous stream of contentiousness, to the style of speech and the identification of character differentiation. In Melanctha we could clearly see which characters were considered black and who weren’t. There was an out word expression and even in the actual style of dialog was different, but in As I Lay Dying it’s not as clear of a picture. In Faulkner’s book the black character is harder to pick out and seems to not even be present despite taking place in the Deep South.

Disparity only changes it’s face.

One of the greatest topics that I have noticed being covered by nearly every work we have read is that of class.  Anand’s Untouchable (1935), Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) , Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1925)  and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), illustrate to us that through the years, no matter the location or specific group of characters, class continues to be a factor of major importance and intrigue.

There is a clear continuity in class distinction and disparity throughout each of these novels, with no clear resolution through time. For instance, while in 1899, Imperialism is shown in spades throughout Heart of Darkness, it is still an issue (although in a different location), in Untouchable. Not only do these two show class disparity, but also inequality in both race and cultures.

As I Lay Dying and Their Eyes Were Watching God reveal a slightly different form of class disparity, in that they don’t revolve around themes of one group of people AGAINST another, but are more revealing in their disparity through the largely missing discussions of these disparities. The reveal is through ignorance rather than understanding.

Over the difference of 38 years, we can see that the face of disparity changes, but it’s power and overall grip on societies, does not. No matter the location, or the cultures and classes involved, this continues to be a problem throughout the world. It’s so interesting to see it from so many points of view, and each authors different style helps to bring us closer to these people that we may never have considered otherwise. Historically, the significance is quite clear, even when the issues never quite get resolved. We cannot make changes if they aren’t consistent

Nora Neale Hurtson and Race

“The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was he time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been toungeless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and brutes had occupied their skin. But now the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They had became the lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgement”.

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. 2.

I think its interesting that Nora starts off her book on the note of racism which is continually prevalent throughout the novel. The black people of their town, Eatonville, feel repressed by the “whites” of their town. Life would be better if they lived without “judgement”. I think that this sets the tone of race in the book further more and the repression these people feel.

Scared of the Rebellious Side ….Melanctha

“I certainly am always right Melanctha Herbert, the way I certainly always have been when I knows it, to you. No Melanctha, it just is you never can have no kind of a way to act right, the way a decent girl has to do, and I done my best always to be telling it to you Melanctha Herbert, but it don’t never do no good to tell nobody how to act right; they certainly never can learn when they ain’t got no sense right to know it, and you never have no sense right Melanctha to be honest, and I ain’t never wishing you no harm to you ever Melanctha Herbert, only I don’t never want any more to see you come here” (69).

Stein, Gertrude. Melanctha. Three Lives. 1909 p. 69. http://www.bartleby.com/74/21.html

Melanctha and Rose represents two different social groups. Although Rose is far from being a housewife, she sees herself play the traditional safe role which is to be the perfect housewife and mother. She also conforms to the typical black stereotypes. They are not supposed to be educated like the white folks etc. Melanctha on the other hand plays the rebellious side. She is sexually liberated, does not conform to the traditional stereotypes that are pinned on women and the African Americans. She struggles to fulfill this liberation for women and colored people. She does not want to be the perfect housewife or mother. She wants to live her own life and be her own person. Rose sees this side rebellious side of Melanctha as a negative thought and freaks out since she does not want to conform. She believes women should fulfill the traditional role. That is why she keeps telling Melanctha what to do and how to act. Rose believes that women and African Americans should remain in their places and let the white people stereotype each race and gender.

Race in Heart of Darkness

“All their meagre breasts, the violently dilated nostrils, the eyes stared stonily up-hill. The passed me within six inches, without a glance, complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle…white men being so much alike at a distance, that he could not tell who I might be.”

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 117. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

Going off of the conversation with which we left off last class, this passage serves for and  against Achebe’s argument that Heart of Darkness is a racially charged text.  The language Conrad uses is suggestive of racism whereas the African men are described as animals instead of humans. Conrad writes that Marlow observes the Africans as being ‘savages’, dehumanized and stripped of their identities. Conrad uses the delayed specification of referents which conveys emotions that need not be explicitly written: for instance, the reader gets a sense of not belonging from the sample text. Marlow refers to the Africans with racist language, but he feels he does not fit in with the white group as well. Marlow knows that he too is white but is hesitant to identify with the other white men. This issue suddenly does not seem so much a racial concern but rather a state of the human condition, which relates to Woolf’s theory on modernism.