Term Paper: Ideas of Modernism in Go Down Moses and Winter Dreams

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Modernism in Faulkner and Wright: False Promises of Place, Changes of Time, And Money

Although both William Faulkner's "Go Down, Moses" and the Richard Wright's shot story "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" revolve around the morals and manners the Old South, the tales are not retrospective or romantic in nature. Rather, both authors use the decaying social mores of the Southern region of the United States to define 20th century modernism's preoccupation with modern protagonists of sense of fragmented identities. Both feature the Black or 'Negro' experience as it was then called, to highlight the modern person's sense of social estrangement from his or her parents and his or her present society. Naming, parentage, travel by train to and from the North, and materialism and violence all coalesce in both tales suggest that the world is a meaningless and alienating place for the Black American protagonists. For both Samuel and Dave, the world is a violent place that only offers only purposeless flight as an ultimately specious alternative to the prejudices of the South. In actuality, both tales suggest, all the land of America must be scourged and reinvigorated with new ideas. Wright uses the Black American consciousness as a framework to show the world's violence and the main character's personal estrangement from both his own people and the White community, while Faulkner uses a White perspective to tell the tale of Samuel, although Faulkner's setting and characters revolve around the drama of a Black man.

Modernism's definition as a genre marked by "the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression" is often expressed in the form of fragmentation, as is evidenced in the narrative both tales of Faulkner and Wright. ("Modernism," Answers.com, 2005) Both the protagonists of "God Down Moses" and the Man Who Was Almost a Man" are raised by either their grandparents, or by parents mired in an older generation, and thus feel estranged from their traditional Black families as well as the larger institutions of White society. The difficulties with their parents suggest the failure of the parental generation of Blacks to sustain the next generation, and heighten the frustration of the Black young men to create new identities when they are mired in the past world of the old, more subservient code of ethics of their elders. "Go Down Moses" begins in Illinois, where a young Black man named Samuel Beauchamp waits for death. Samuel murdered a police officer and, the reader is told, he will be executed the next day. However, the idea of fragmented identity is brought forth when it becomes clear that Samuel is the grandson of the Southern Mollie, who he says raised him, although he cannot remember his parents. (Faulkner 350) "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" chronicles the story of Dave, a young, African-American farm laborer struggling to assert his identity in the restrictive racist atmosphere of the rural South, while his grandparents encourage him to essentially kowtow to the heads of the plantations, because that is all they know how to do. (Napierkowski, 2003) Dave's sense of estrangement is so great he sees his parents as 'niggers' and himself as something different. "Whut's the use talkin wid em niggers in the field? Anyhow, his mother was putting supper on the table. Them niggers; can't understan nothing. One of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, then they couldn't talk to him as though he were a little boy." (Wright, 1960) Naming is thus very significant in both tales, whether one is a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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