Thesis: United States Since 1940 Mapping the Moral Landscape

Pages: 20 (6045 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Race  ·  Buy This Paper

The Moral Landscape of Pre Civil Rights America

The United States has always suffered from a fundamental identity

crisis. Ideologically committed to the extension of an admirable set of

values, most centrally those of liberty, justice and human equality, its

growth to a nation of incomparable prosperity was in many ways facilitated

by its combined plenteousness of natural resources and a system of

unfettered free labor known as the slave trade. As the Founding Fathers

and framers of the U.S. Constitution would begin the charge toward the war

for independence from England, this contradiction would become an issue of

increasing importance, particularly due to the seeming moral implications

of the fledgling democracy's new doctrine granting legal protection to the

great values above mentioned. However, a set of cultural, economic and

ideological divisions, especially as delineated by the regional gaps that

would spark the Civil War, prevented the Constitution from having this

immediate impact. The Civil Rights movement a century thereafter would

demonstrate that for the bulk of its history, the United States has claimed

a deeply moral code of laws and ideals but has more frequently engaged in a

deeply immoral perpetuation of a racially oppressive and unequal system.

This is a condition which defined the racial experience of blacks in the

United States for much of the early and middle 20th century where, in the

adaptation of a first generation of free-born black Americans, white

America's virulent exclusions would have a decidedly negative effect. As

described in works by novelists Richard Wright and, thereafter, by James

Baldwin, the immoral racialist fabric of American culture would manifest

devastatingly in the lives of ordinary black citizens struggling to adjust

to a nation of new laws but many of the same lingering prejudices.

The authors do go about this task differently, even though research

denotes them to have been close friends and colleagues.

To Wright, there is a fundamental sadism to the experience of

American racism that manifests as a breakdown of morality for the black man

himself. As Wright conjectures, America's historical perpetuation of an

institutionalized and virulent racism has shaped the identity of the

African American population in many ways. Among these, one of the most

fundamental causes for said population's greater vulnerability to poverty,

crime and violence is a sustained disenfranchisement that has deprived

America's blacks of a national identity. This is the complex socio-

cultural disposition that drives Wright's Native Son. Understanding the

content of the novel and analyzing the suggestion of its title, one is apt

to believe that lead protagonist/antagonist Bigger Thomas is a native to

his home, the United States. However, in this paradox, the reader is likely

to note that Bigger Thomas is denied throughout the story and alienated

from his homeland due to an immoral racial bigotry which places Bigger in

an isolated, lonely, discriminatory society. This has the impact of

shaping Bigger into an inhumane and violent creature whose absence of

identity enables him to commit monstrous acts with relative indifference.

Ultimately, the course of events around which Richard Wright's

important 1940 novel on political and racial issues of the time centers is

Bigger's lifelong disengagement from the society that has given him so

little. Wright does not take long to introduce, simultaneously, the

miserable conditions of Bigger's life and the formative responses which

have manifested within him. In the opening sequence of the novel, Bigger

and his brother are forced to hunt and kill an enormous rat while his

mother and sister stand on the bed and watch in terror. After succeeding

in bludgeoning the rat to death, Bigger proceeds to dangle the vermin's

body in front of his child sister, Vera. When Vera faints from terror,

Bigger shows no sympathy or even cognizance of his actions. His mother's

anger is palpable as she articulates Bigger's vices, charging at him,

"Suppose those rats cut our veins at night when we sleep? Naw! Nothing

like that every bothers you! All you care about is your own pleasure!

Even when the relief offers you a job you won't take it till they threaten

to cut off your food and starve you!"(Wright, 12)

The job to which she refers here, the position of chauffeur for a

millionaire philanthropist, is one which would ultimately be the forum for

the true repercussions of Bigger's nature. Following a violent altercation

with a member of his gang, and his subsequent expulsion from the gang's

hang-out, Bigger finds himself forced to interview for this job. During

the interview, the overwhelming fear he suffers from his first exposure to

the enormity and excessiveness of white wealth begins to offer insight into

the cause of Bigger's internal turmoil. The contrast between this

lifestyle and that of his family brings to bear a concrete sense of the

immoral social landscape that has shaped his world.

Bigger's brief tenure of employment for a wealthy, white family

invokes a change in him. The anger and inhumanity that had always guided

his actions, is now inflamed by a target for his resentment resentment. As

Bigger drives his employer's daughter Mary and her communist boyfriend

through the black neighborhood, her disposition leaves him silently

incensed. She speaks of the neighborhood with distant empathy, addressing

the residents therein collectively to Bigger as 'you people.' Though he

has no external response, it sparks his rage. Wright tells that "there was

silence. The car sped through the Black Belt, past tall buildings holding

black life. Bigger knew that they were thinking of his life and the life

his people. Suddenly he wanted to seize some heavy object in his hand and

grip it with all the strength of his body and stand in the naked space

above the speeding car and with one final blow blot it out-with himself and

them in it." (Wright, 70)

The decidedly low value that he appears to place on human life

extends from the low value which had been applied to his life, suggesting

one of the major psychological themes of slavery and the subsequent

segregation of the mid 20th century. Particularly, the notion that moral

applications were not meant with regard to the treatment of black Americans

precipitated the conception in Wright's works that in turn, the black

American has been denied the opportunity to develop a sense of moral

justice. Thus, to Bigger, his anger becomes the channel through which

justice is to be served rather than through morality. He resents his

family's dependency upon him and his mother's constant disparagement.

Likewise, he has no opportunities to speak of and his education and talents

are modest to poor. A peephole into white lives, which appeared to be

filled with a comfort and ease that juxtaposed grotesquely with the squalor

and peril of black lives, forced to the surface in Bigger a perhaps

unwitting awareness that the affluence of one race precipitated the misery

of the other and vice versa.

But Bigger's disposition speaks to a widespread condition amongst

blacks in the years to follow abolition. Unbeknownst to Bigger, he is a

product of an economy and a political system which are both dramatically

unequal. Indeed, the focus which Wright pays to the trials of this single

malevolent figure reveals an unpleasant archetype in Bigger for the type of

man created by the immoral disenfranchisement endemic to slavery and

segregation thereafter. Indeed, American politics have actually been

shaped so largely by the racism that it is almost difficult to detect today

this institutionalized force without the impingement of a major incident.

In understanding the moral posturing of our political system in Wright's

time, it is important to remember that the nation's growth was founded upon

its perpetuation of the African slave trade. Transporting en masse the

poorest members of African society to toil on its plantations and

agricultural estates, the U.S. achieved its fast economic growth, its role

in global resource trade and many conceits of its identity from the

permeation of free labor, which enabled the fortification of white power

until abolition in the mid-19th century. With this precedent informing

succeeding generations on racial perspective, the regions where racism had

experienced its strongest and most adversely combated support would

continue to reflect this disposition in stark economic contrasts like the

one described in Bigger's drive through the black neighborhood. Unspoken

but understood in the aspect of the text is that such residential

segregation precipitated an inherently negative experience for black

Americans.

The South, specifically, followed its defeat in the Civil War with an

institution of Jim Crow laws which, in addition to replacing slavery with

segregation, would continue to channel explicit modes of racial hatred

directly through public officials and legislative applications. Though the

Civil Rights movement would bring greater clarity to the reality of Jim

Crow, which promoted the exclusion of blacks from social, economic or

political participation in the white system, it would likewise serve to

intensify the feelings of racial friction in its region. Wright's 1940

novel seems to prefigure this in much the same way that James… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"United States Since 1940 Mapping the Moral Landscape."  Essaytown.com.  May 23, 2009.  Accessed September 17, 2019.
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