All posts in the racism category

Racism in Tarzan, Heart of Darkness, Captain Horn

Published May 2, 2017 by lorijss


Tarzan, from the animated Disney’s version to the most recent 2016 installment seems to cut out the racist components of the 1912 novel. With the animation editing out blacks entirely and the latest movie discarding the racism, the question remains as to whether this can be done without wiping out the existence and essence of Tarzan. In Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Borroughs, blacks are seen as barbaric, “savages” with the ape-reared male elevated above the natives with no basis other than because the author said so. However, Tarzan was not unique for In The Adventures of Captain Horn by Frank Stockton which was published in 1895, the Africans are also called “savage” and “half—tamed,” and planted in the narrative for comedic entertainment. Immediately, one can see a correlation between racism and entertainment with the more racist equaling the more entertaining based on the authorship. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, published in 1899 has a more serious undertone whilst still depicting blacks as subhuman and “niggers” which may have costed it it’s effectiveness. It’s important that white  or non-black readers do not read over these stereotypical views and also not take it lightly. That way closer inspection reveal that these novels are not as good it could have been without the distasteful parts. Fiction is better when it’s grounded in reality. All three of the action and or adventure texts, Tarzan, Captain Horn and Heart of Darkness regardless of their genre, portray stereotypical views of blacks or Africans as unintelligent, barbaric, wild and subhuman, thereby eluding the common sense of these persons, their subjective perspectives and overall veritableness.


The Adventures of Captain Horn


Throughout Captain Horn the supposed Africans are viewed as the same.

When the captain was told of “strange thing,” his reaction was a generalization—“another African!” After Mrs. Cliff and her companions insist that it wasn’t a Native Indian, they said “almost in the same breath..it was an African, exactly like Maka.” The conversation exemplifies a lack of experience or familiarity and possibly an obsession when they say, “you know they’re very dark.” Africans are just like one another. What are the chances that after stumbling upon a new land that he’d find a black person that looks exactly like Maka? It’s ironic that Mrs. Cliff and her companions in the “same breath” are also similar.

           The alleged “African” characters are depicted in an emasculated manner. When the author states, “Making a step toward him, the captain saw that he(Maka) had hold of another man, several feet below him, and that he could not pull him up.

“Hold on tight, Maka,” he cried, and then, taking hold of the African’s shoulders, he gave one mighty heave, lifted both men, and set them on their feet beside him.” Maka is the one that does all the manual labor for the Captain so logically he would not be the one to have the strength to lift both men.

The black characters are always depicted as frightened and scared. An example is, “The new African was sitting on the ground, as far back from the edge of the ledge as he could get, shivering and shaking, for the water was cold. He had apparently at reached the culmination and termination of his fright.” You can see that this “new African” is also authored as fearful like Maka. Keep in mind that they are socialized in two different parts of the word.  Here is another example, “The shivering negro had been listening attentively, and now half rose and nodded his head violently, and then began to speak rapidly in African.” Firstly the description is ironic and not realistic for one to go from “shivering” to “nodding head violently.” With this superficial description of the character’s speech, the reader is forced to think in stereotypes. There are thousands of African languages that were and still are spoken across the continent.

         The “Africans” are always placed at impending danger zones as tools for the initiation of a scene that makes Horn seem brave. It is interesting that the author describes Maka for example, has being fearful but put him the closest to danger. “Maka can sleep in the hall to keep out burglars.(17)” If he is indeed the most scared why would Captain Horn place him where he would be the first to face the onset of danger. Another instance: “then suddenly a scrambling sound of footsteps was heard, and Maka dashed through the two adjoining apartments and appeared before them. Instantly the captain was on his feet, his gun, which had been lying beside him, in his hand.” In this scene the captain is portrayed as being brave because he has a gun. That eludes the fact that anyone can sport a gun. It continues that “the captain satisfied himself with leaving Mok at his former post, with instructions to give the alarm if he heard the slightest sound, and put Maka, as before, in the outer passage.” Maka is placed in the latter passage which is the most exposed part of the vicinity.

Lines like “As soon as the negro saw him, he began to beckon wildly for him to come on,” and five black men in a state of mad excitement” are exaggerated and misinterpreted behavioral expressions of the “Africans.” “Some more Africans have turned up. Maka has gone to meet them…”  This phrase assumes that Maka would automatically run towards the Africans of the land he just arrived on with Captain Horn, like long lost brothers. Once again we find Maka being put at the forefront where if Captain Horn were really the brave one he would take the initiative and “go to meet them.” The lack of sufficient interpretation of Africans is evident when, “…the other African, Mok, sat crouched on his heels, his eyes wide open. Whether he was asleep or not it would have been difficult to determine, but if anyone had appeared in the great cleft on the other side of the lake, he would have sprung to his feet with a yell—his fear of the Rackbirds was always awake.” It’s not clear why it would be difficult to know whether Mok is sleeping or not. It implies that the author is lacking in skills of interpreting or observing behavior.  Again we see assumptions of fear.

Statements to describe black characters in the novel are geared towards “exclusion” or “differentiation.”  Take for example this statement by Captain Horn. “Now we can take it easy to-day, and rest our bones. The order of the day is to keep close…Keep those four niggers up in the pigeonhole.” The use of the word, “those” imply that they are seen as “the other” —differentiated and excluded despite being used for manual labor. Horn continues, “We will do our own cooking to-day, for we can’t afford to run after any more of them. Lucky the fellow who got away can’t speak English, for he can’t tell anything about us, any more than if he was an ape.”  Needless to state, the racism—someone doesn’t speak English they are inferior and the comparison to an ape. We already know that the Captain must’ve had incompetency for learning the languages of the African. For he sees no problem that Maka would know his language but he not know Maka’s at all. When Horn said, “You are a good fellow, Maka,” that quite frankly is a racist statement. The reason is that there is an implication that all blacks are “bad” for him to be making statements such as, “Apart from his being such an abject coward, he seems to be a good, quiet fellow, willing to do what he is told…(83)” The white characters would also say things like “ those black fellows(72)”and “those colored people(73)” after they brought all the food and provisions to them. They are viewed as “the other” and different even though they take care of them. There is a lot of name calling of blacks such as “coal-black heathen(93)”

Blacks wanting to find “good white people” to “take care of them” lacks plausibility as there is no textual evidence of this want. Examine: “The Africans went to a spot..and there they hid themselves, and watched as long as it was daylight…But they saw nothing, and being very anxious to find good white people who would take care of them, they started out before dawn that morning to look for the shipwrecked party…whom they hoped to find their companion Mok.” Maka does the physical work for the crew so it is he that takes care of the captain and the crew. In essence it is the white people that seek blacks to “take care of them,” constantly throughout the novel. When the captain and his crew were soon going to be without food, Maka proposed that he and the rest of the “black fellows” bring some supplies.(60)” Upon return, “The negroes were heavily loaded with bags and packages, and they were glad to deposit their burdens on the ground.(60)” This show us that it’s blacks that are taking care of the whites.

Voices added to the African characters are inauthentic, similar to Captain Horn. For example, “Yes,” replied the African. “One day before, three went out to look for Mok, and they found his track and more track, and they waited in the black darkness.” It is unlikely that an African would say this statement because growing up in The Caribbean or South American climate, the natives would be accustomed to the black darkness at night which is apart of their environment. The African is speaking about the darkness of the night as if it is strange or new and he fears it. These inauthentic voices do not reflect the cultural-environment. In Europe it snows and the atmosphere becomes brighter outside at night when it snows, so the night is shorter and looks like day. Tropical climates have not only longer nights but darker nights all year round with apparently no snow.

The strength of Mok and Maka are underestimated despite the manual labor Stockton depicts them doing throughout the novel. “Maka, that is a fine lot of fire-wood you have brought. It will last us a long time,” said Horn. Maka who seems to have carried a bunch of firewood should imply his strength but earlier on he was not able to lift two men. It’s more likely that Captain Horn would not be able to have the strength to do the latter as throughout the book he only lifts a gun. This is portrayed as if it takes the same strength to lift a weapon as to lift firewood.

Mok and Maka are also given similar sounding names and that eludes to the fact that the author strives to make them all the more alike. Mok is pronounced the same as Muck whose googled definition is “dirt, rubbish, waste manner.” Clearly, even the names of the characters are of a underlying, racist origin.


            In Tarzan, there are exaggerated and clearly stereotypically racist descriptions of the appearance of “Africans.” Case in point, “Their yellow teeth were filed to sharp points, and their great protruding lips added…to the low and bestial brutishness of their appearance.” It assumes that appearance has anything to do with behavior when he states “bestial brutishness.” It edges the reader to accept that physical appearance are of any intrinsic value in determining a person’s character. The author adds judgements to physical appearances as if there are any basic correlation between the two. He also assumes that appearances of the natives has anything to do with the observer.

Tarzan behavior towards the Natives shows but an insult of their intelligence, despite the fact that apes raised him, according to the novel’s premise. “Without haste he wrapped them securely, and then, ere he turned to leave, the devil of capriciousness entered his heart. He looked about for some hint of a wild prank to play upon these strange, grotesque creatures that they might be again aware of his presence among them.(111)” So when Tarzan is around Africans a devil enters his heart. It’s interesting that the author makes Tarzan first experience with an African be when his ape mother is murdered with a bow and arrow. He could have easily been exposed to the natives before that tragedy. The existence of Tarzan rests partly if not solely on racism. It would be more likely that the natives would have found him—”aware of his presence” and brought him up in human culture.

Like Captain Horn, blacks in Tarzan are depicted as fearful and also emasculated. When the natives found out that their arrows were missing—“thoroughly awed and frightened group of savages”(105). When the village found out that Mbonga died, “They stood in little groups, talking in low tones, and ever casting affrighted glances behind them from their great rolling eyes.”(105)” Anyone with common sense would know that if a prominent person has been murdered in a village then that would be the last reaction. There would be sadness, revenge, an investigation etc.   Fearfulness is then taken to a new level—  without logical reason. “He was moving carelessly along a winding jungle trail…, when suddenly he came face to face with a black warrior. The look of surprise on the savage face was almost com- ical, and before Tarzan could unsling his bow the fellow had turned and ed down the path crying out in alarm as though to others before him. (133)” While we know that Tarzan is fiction this particular scene is like a macho fantasy one because there is no reason one would fear Tarzan. It is unlikely that they’d be afraid of a naked white man running around in their environment. Now notice the phrase, “unsling his bow” which is ironic because we know that this bow was stolen from the Africans. Also, why would this black warrior not have a bow and arrow himself? Even if Tarzan practiced with the bow and arrow he would not be as skilled as the natives. They not only engineered them but have a society and culture that would contribute to them mastering shooting a bow from an arrow through socialization and education. That apparently contributes to the whole racism which includes the insulting of people’s intelligence.
Scenes in Tarzan are remindful of southern lynching in the 19th and 20th century during which time the novel was published. “The blacks, their eyes protruding in horror, watched spellbound. Once beneath the trees, the body rose straight into the air, and as it disappeared into the foliage above, the terrified negroes, screaming with fright, broke into a mad race for the village gate. (248)” It is apparent that lynching was done in hopes of instilling fear of the latter description in maintaining white supremacy as exemplified in Tarzan even in the “African jungle.” By now we see numerous scenes of fearful Africans both in Tarzan and Captain Horn being repeated over and over again in hopes that this continuous repetition would make it true or real, for the obvious reasons that it is not true or actual.

Esmeralda in Tarzan of the Apes

Like the African Natives, Esmeralda is also depicted as fearful “like a frightened child(148).” Her character identity is posited as African American. We know this because she arrived from “America” as Jane’s maiden. Esmeralda wanted to leave the “African jungles.” She said, “You all don’t mean to tell ME that you’re going to stay right here in this here land of carnivable animals…Don’t you tell me THAT, honey.(280)” Not only is this voice clearly stereotypical, she is depicted as having absolutely no interest in the African continent much less in remaining there. Nor in her African roots because we already know that as an African American she would be of African descent.  The only way she would have no interest her African ancestral home, is if she had been brainwashed, denied or stripped of her history by the influence or behavior of oppressor/s during some type of servitude.

Esmeralda, like other “black” characters is there for entertainment—albeit a racist. It’s akin to the minstrel shows used to entertain the white masses. In this period these shows had to be racist to be deemed entertaining by white audiences.  I will go as far as saying that Esmeralda is “blackface”— a non-black character with theatrical makeup to represent a black person. Even though Esmeralda is not one of the African native, she is still portrayed as fearful as much as the African characters in the “jungle” where Tarzan also resides. Whether they are black Americans or Africans in the Congo, they are all depicted as the same: fearful. None of the black characters are portrayed in a suitable manner from the beginning.

Heart of Darkness

Conrad also depicted Africans in his novel in a stereotypical, superficial, and distasteful manner. Here is a descriptions of the natives, “Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth in all attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair they were nothing earthly now….One of these creatures rose to his hands and knees and went off on all fours towards the river to drink. (Conrad 25)” The natives are portrayed as shapes and moving forms with no characteristics so as to distinguish one from the other.  They are described as animalistic, moving “on all fours,” and in a superstitious manner as in “nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation.(25)” Alluding to Captain Horn, they are Mok and Maka, very similar as if they are one body and not separate individuals.

Like Tarzan and Captain Horn, the Natives are described in sweeping generalizations and has literally one body. We know that the author did in fact go to this area of the African continent. However, he must have left with the same stereotypes he came with of Africans and did not discover a full truth exemplified in his racist descriptions of Africans as sub-human.

Similarly, the two previously mentioned novels, blacks aren’t given authentic voices. Marlowe chose to describe the voice of the Africans as a “growing murmur of voices” and a “violent babble of uncouth sounds(15).”

Solely based on authorship, one can tell that Borrough, Stockton, and Conrad do not know or have little to no familiarity with blacks making their stance superstitious. Examine the phrase, “Then Mbonga emerged, a look of mingled wrath and superstitious fear writ upon his hideous countenance.” European or white characters are not depicted as fearful, atleast not as much as melanated characters. Logically speaking it would more be the European that would be afraid not being familiar with the surroundings.

Apart from the authors being racist, one can argue that racism is superstition. The definition of superstition in the Webster’s dictionary is: 1. any belief, based on fear or ignorance, that is inconsistent with the known laws of science or with what is considered as true and rational. 2. any action or practice based on such a belief. Meanwhile dictionary.com defines superstition as “irrational belief usually founded on ignorance or fear and characterized by obsessive reverence…a notion, act or ritual that derives from such belief. 2. any irrational belief[racism], esp with regard to the unknown[blacks].” Evidently, it is ironic that the natives or blacks are repeatedly shown to be superstitious when it’s really Stockton reflected in Captain Horn and his crew, Borroughs, and Conrad that would likely be afraid and superstitious. They carry superstitious beliefs of blacks.

Colonialism in the texts

In both Tarzan and Captain Horn Europeans have been shipwrecked on another land in one way for another. In Tarzan and Heart of Darkness, however short, there have been colonialism.  When Lord Greystroke was sent to “[investigate] conditions in a British West Coast African Colony. The English men stated that the Africans were held in slavery. Even after their enlistment ended they were taken advantage of and kept in servitude for several more years. This is very similar to Heart of Darkness where the Africans are overworked as the earlier quote above describes their conditions and then left to die. In Tarzan there is also scenes that can arguably be symbolic of colonialism. When Tarzan steals the Native’s bows and arrows on numerous occasions, it is symbolic of Europeans exploitation of African resources. And when Tarzan was using the arrow against the Native it’s using the very resources they’ve gained from the oppressed against the oppressed. When “the devil of capriciousness entered [Tarzan’s] heart,” it can also be symbolic of the behavior of colonists because of the subjugation of people and echoes the title of Conrad’s novel—Heart of Darkness. Conrad and Borrough would say Europeans shouldn’t be in Africa looting and exploiting. All three authors would agree more or less that material things are the root of all evil.


As a black person reading Captain Horn, for example when I laugh, I always stop abruptly in my tracks to remember that I am laughing at the author’s ignorance. This novel could’ve been hilarious without racism and would make a great movie if my aforementioned discussion is considered. While reading Conrad’s description of blacks, I couldn’t help but think that he was mentally ill. If, Heart of Darkness’ goal was to show the evils of colonization then what better way to show this than through the eyes of oppressors? That Conrad had no empathy towards blacks, making his work less effective if it’s goal was to educate Europeans on the horrors of colonialism so that it may be eradicated. To actively fight colonialism and the oppression, blacks would have had to be an integral part of the solution. We know this because they are the ones oppressed and also because Europeans are on an African land. As for Tarzan, Borrough seems to admit something closer to the truth with this line near the end of the novel, “But one might as well judge all blacks by the fellow who ran amuck last week, or decide that all whites are cowards because one has met a cowardly white.(302)” So when it’s said and done Borrough is implying that in reality it is actually whites that are the cowards and that cowardice is only projected unto black characters in Tarzan and Captain Horn.

Race and Racism in Othello, Mama Day and The Merchant of Venice

Published December 28, 2016 by lorijss

Race manifests itself in three particular works of fiction Shakespeare’s Othello,
The Merchant of Venice and Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day. Characters in these works experience racism in different ways. “Race” and Racism go hand in hand making it impossible to examine one without the other. Whether it be overt or subtle or expressed in a form that his religious. Hence, there is overt racism in Othello, color blind racism in Mama Day and religious discrimination that manifests itself as racism in The Merchant of Venice. An example of the later would be the Holocaust. That is precisely what we find Shylock experiencing, treated just like he is another “race” and that shows just how much of a social construct race is. Because of the different ways in which race is perceived, the word “race” will be used in quotation marks for this paper. Similarly, when Hitler was convinced that there was a race known as the Jewish one. In Mama Day, Cocoa tries to tie food to the culture of people whose race is inadvertently linked to their religion. Even though Othello faces racism numerous times, the same people in his social sphere that do that know they need him because of his militant skills. He has proven himself to be a distinguished warrior and established himself in such a way that the people, enemies, and friends alike, know that they need him. Shylock in The Merchant of Venice gets discriminated against because of his religion. However, Shylock might as well have been another “race” from everyone else with the manner in which he is treated. Examining the ways in which “race” affects the lives of the major characters, prominent in the varying types of racism that they face, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Mama Day, helps us to understand how it exists in a social and historical context. For when we see how it manifests itself in our world today, we can work to dismantle it and make society a better place.
In Mama Day Cocoa is forced to confront “race” while job hunting in New York City. She said, “it took me a while to figure out that New York racism moved underground like most of the people did.(18)” She then recounts when Mama Day and Grandma told her that there was a time when the want ads and the housing listings had colored and white sections. Cocoa turns this around and says it must have been easier to hunt for jobs then. You were spared having to run up and down all over the place. You knew where you could should and couldn’t shouldn’t go. Apparently, not everyone agrees with Cocoa when one of her “certain people” asked upset, “You mean you want to bring back racism?” She looked at the person as if they were a “fool.” She then clarifies that she only wanted them to bring the “clarity” back and that she wouldn’t have to waste so much money on public transportation tokens, not to mention time. Cocoa goes on to say that the ads that are labeled “Equal Opportunity Employer” might has well have said, “Colored apply” or “Take your chances.(19)”
Naylor does not let Cocoa go out and say explicitly that her experience is “colorblind” racism. She would rather show this to her readers in the novel. In order to understand the phenomenon of “color blind racism,” we must first define color-blind ideology. Jon Greenberg asserts that the term “color-blind” is problematic. It is best described as showing rather than telling. Colorblind ideology posits that discrimination, racism, and prejudice are a thing of the past and we are a colorblind society in which race does not matter. For Cocoa the fact that she is not getting hired in New York City is showing that there is a different kind of racism than in Mama Day and Grandma’s days. This is racism that is under a facade that race does not matter when people’s experiences and the results of their efforts, says that it does. Cocoa experience show us that this is a type of racism that hides itself under “Equal Opportunity Employer.” Hence, the name of this racism is colorblind. Cocoa elaborates further about a one-inch ad for an office manager position. She describes it as a “long job description so there wasn’t enough room to print,’Equal Opportunity Employer.(19)’” She said it could be half Jewish and that maybe they only wanted their own. It shows how a business could be advertising themselves as one thing but want another thing.
A belief that racism is an individual acting against another individual leads to another belief that the civil rights era has “leveled the playing field,” asserts scholar Margaret Zamudio and that any racial inequality is blacks not working hard—”individual and cultural deficiencies.” When we look at Mama Day, we see how relentless Cocoa has been in her search for employment. One can see that the inequality that results from colorblind ideology has nothing to do with how hard a person works. Colorblind racism is the dominant racism that have continued into the post civil rights era (Zamudio 2006). That is the era in which Cocoa lives. Naylor successfully uses Cocoa’s experience to explain the racism that results from a colorblind ideology.
In Merchant of Venice, we see the character Shylock face religious discrimination because he is a Jew. In order to better understand the social atmosphere of the play, let us examine the treatment of Jews in England during the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Russ McDonalds states that in the year 1290, Jews were cast out of England. He added that while some Jews did manage to live and work in Shakespeare London, the law was not actively enforced and was homogenous. At the summoning of Oliver Cromwell, Jew were no longer banned from England in 1655 (276). That is the historical atmosphere under which this play is written and performed. One can argue that Shylock’s experience is akin to racism because he is racialized because of his religion. When the merchant Antonio asks Shylock for money. It took Shylock some time to decide whether to lend Antonio the money. Shylock states that Antonio called him a “dog” and “spit” on him. Here is what he says to Antonio:
Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Shall have I borne it with a patient shrug,
The suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut throat, dog
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for the use of that which is mine own.(103-109)
Specifically, Shylock is saying that Antonio has insulted his business dealings. He adds that he is has borne it like any other Jew has according to him, Jews are good at putting up with maltreatment. He finally adds that Antonio has insulted and cursed at him and spit on his “gaberdine” which is his clothes. Shylock then adds, “Well then, it now appears you need my help.(110)” Shylock doesn’t stop there; he goes on to say Antonio kicked him like he’s kicked a dog. He then asks Antonio if a dog has money and if he, Antonio, can borrow money from a dog. Shylock continues to repeat what his experience with Antonio has been. This is the most poignant scene in the play that displays the extent of Shylock’s treatment. The revenge inside Shylock is barely scratching the surface. Antonio only edges the revenge out when he says that he is not going to stop treating Shylock the way he has been. That Shylock might as well lend him the money as a way to avenge himself if he does not pay the loan. The revenge he has against Antonio actually represents those times he has been treated poorly by not only Antonio but by “Christians.”
Throughout the play, Shylock is constantly differentiated as “The Jew.” Also, In the play, some of the people who are “Christians” see themselves as superior to Shylock and all other Jews. When Antonio loses all of the money that Shylock lends him, he takes this as an opportunity to exact his revenge on his maltreatment by not only Antonio but “Christians” in general. I advocate that when Shylock says “you” in the court, he is referring to who he views as Christians and when he says “your” he is referring to what or in this case, who belongs to the “Christians.” I will go further and state that Shylock’s constant repetition of the word, “you” doesn’t mean only Antonio but the repeated maltreatment of him by other “Christians” besides Antonio. The extent of Shylock’s experience with religious discrimination is evident in his Act 4 Verse 1 speech.In this scene, Shylock is in the court exacting his revenge against Antonio. Prior to this Antonio borrowed some money from Shylock.
“What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs? (88-93)
Here he asserts that the “Christians” work their slaves like animals and that they think that they are justified in making their slaves perform these awful jobs because they bought them. I will go as far as saying that Shylock’s mention of slaves could shed light on the extent of his treatments by “Christians.” Shylock uses this as an argument because he is treated almost as such, a slave. He argues that “Christians” own slaves and if he ever tells them to set their slaves free and to have them marry their children they would not want to do it. Shylock is showing how easy it is for “Christians” to be “racist” against Shylock, if they already have human beings in bondage. It also demonstrates the racism of the “Christians” towards not only Jews but apparently to the slaves they own who are human beings. By virtue of how he is being treated in Venice, Shylock identifies somewhat with, according to him, the slaves that “Christians” own. He would not have brought slavery up in the first place if he did not identify with human beings in bondage. Like the slaves of the “Christians”, he is also viewed as inferior. That is why Shylock carries on his argument so fervently. Who better to articulate the immorality of slavery than Shylock? A “Jew” who has been treated as if he is not human.
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
“The slaves are ours:” so do I answer you: (94-97)

Shylock’s speech hints that the slaves should be treated like and entitled to what their masters entitle themselves to. Shylock continues his argument asking sarcastically if he can tell them to free their slaves, exclaim on how hard they work them, make the beds that they sleep on as soft as their own and make them eat their food. The repetitive use of the word “they” here is contingent on Shylock’s use of the word “you.” Shylock then predicts that the “Christians” would object to all of the above and say that the slaves are theirs.
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it?” (97-100)
He then goes into saying that he would answer the same as they’d answer, that the pound of flesh is his. He concludes that if he is refused what he wants, the laws of Venice are not valid.
The latter four lines of Shylock’s speech switches back into a different Shylock. Perhaps he at once sympathized with the slaves why that speech sounded so anti-slavery. But now he is just revenge seeking, possibly blinded by it.
In Mama Day Cocoa continued reference to people as food reveals how she has been treated. Cocoa refers to people as food when she calls Asians “kumquats” and Puerto Ricans “Tacos.”
“Why are people food to you?’ George decides to ask Cocoa on one of their dates in New York City.
“That’s a disgusting thing to say,” Cocoa responded.(62)
Then George goes on to explain that Cocoa has been saying that most of the evening, “fudge sticks, kumquats, bagels, zucchinis,” and that she called, “Herman Badillo a taco.(62)”
After getting to know George and New York Cocoa changes her views on people in New York City. “And best of all, you’d stop calling people food,” said George about Cocoa. (100)
Cocoa explains that she was scared coming to live in New York City and that not used to her neighborhood having more people than the island she was raised on —Willow Springs. She says that the way she talks is her way of always being in the dark about what to expect from anybody. Shylock is like that in the sense that he didn’t know his daughter, Jessica would Elope with Lorenzo. Cocoa tells George that she is not a Bigot and that if she sounds like one, it is because she is “as frightened of….difference as they are. (63) ” This suggests that Cocoa is aware of differences that people judge to see in her and like Shylock is just as afraid as the ones who might judge her. In Shylock’s case, that would be the “Christians” in Venice— the ones that judge him.
Shylock is like Cocoa in that he is behaving towards others the same way they have acted towards him but it seems for Shylock that is more severe. D. M Cohen asserts that Christians hate Jews because they killed Jesus Christ, and that is the root of the persecution of Jews by “Christians.” He then brings into play authors such as John Palmer and Harold Goddard, who express a view of Shylock as a manifestation of the Jewish heritage of persecution and suffering. That is a Shylock that has been done wronged by the world he inhabits and who symbolizes a tortured people. The treatment of Shylock is echoed in his speech about the “Christians” that own slaves.
Shylock is not the only one to experience racism in The Merchant of Venice. There is racism towards The Prince of Morocco that is often overlooked by scholars. Portia, a wealthy heiress, is governed by the choices of her dead father. He leaves a will stating that she can marry whoever picks the right casket covering the picture of her. Portia judges Morocco harshly in the play. That harsh judgment points to a difference in Morocco’s physical appearances. Morocco chooses the wrong casket that does not contain her picture. In response, Portia says behind his back when he is out of hearing distance, “A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains and go. Let all of his complexion choose me so.(78-9)” In other words, she was glad that the dark skinned Morocco did not choose silver and hoped that every man with his “complexion” would choose wrong also.
Background of Africans in London
Mcdonald asserts that Londoners of Shakespeare’s London were exposed to Africans. They were objects of curiosity and so dehumanized shows the homogeneity of the culture and the “cultural anxieties”(176) that Londoners, I add, allowed themselves to feel around strangers. Instead of Mcdonald’s “strangers tended to generate.(176)” I wonder then about the perspective of the “stranger.” While reading Othello, I think of how a Jamaican would react differently in similar circumstances because of cultural upbringings. This led me to the conclusion that since Shakespeare was European because he grew up British, he will naturally have his characters behave European. The Moor in Othello, known as Othello, is portrayed as has black skin but he behaves European. This shows that Shakespeare possibly didn’t know anyone that was “black” so he didn’t portray the character as authentically from any North African culture. Scholar, Mary Preston argues that Othello was “in reality Black but in character white.” This is quite different than when one argues that Shakespeare is racist because of how he portrayed Othello, who is a black man, as someone who couldn’t understand his wife and murdered her, an innocent woman. Phyillis Braxton goes on to assert that making Othello black does not do anything to the play’s storyline. She suggests that the reasons for the character’s black skin areinherent in the dramatic elements of character and plot. Also, she purports that the motive of jealousy in the play does not require Othello to be black (10). I agree to a certain extent and want to add that it does nothing to the storyline because Othello is essentially European. If the portrayal of Othello was of a culture that was not European, that would be expressed in his experiences as an immigrant. Additionally, immigrants experience culture shock then assimilation when they come into a new culture and environment. Any possible advent of Othello’s assimilation in Venice is omitted from the play. I think that would have made Othello’s “race” more vividly essential to Othello’s storyline.
Othello is ‘black in as far as everyone else around him who is predominantly white or caucasian call him so. Phyllis Braxton states that Othello calls himself “black.(3)” I want to add that, Othello only calls himself “black” because the people around him call him so. Rather, when Othello says, “Haply for I am black” (266-67) it is him internalizing the view of him by those around him. He does go on to say, “As Dian’s visage is now begrimed and black as mine own face.(293-93)” Roderigo, A Venetian gentleman, sets the stage for Iago viewing Othello in racial terms when he describes Othello behind his back as “the thick lips.(3)” The latter is what seals the deal for there being no question as to what Shakespeare wanted Othello’s physique to be. Braxton states that the “thick lips” is a “common feature to native Africans and their descendants.(3)” She then adds that the playwright seems to have chosen these physical features to clearly distinguish Othello from native inhabitants of Venice and would make the character foreign to an audience of Englishmen.(10) We know that Roderigo dislikes Othello because he is supposedly in love with Othello’s wife, Desdemona.
Racism towards Othello is overt and rampant throughout the play. Jealousy and hatred towards Othello doesn’t stop at Roderigo. Iago serves Othello who is his general and establishes his jealousy of Othello when he says, “Another of his fathom have they none/To do their business…” (153-54) In other words, even though Iago hates Othello because he did not promote him to the rank of lieutenant, he admits that there lacks a man that can get the job done better than Othello. Scholar Philip Mason notes that when Iago speaks to Brabantio about Othello he does so from the “dark” and from the “Shadow” when he says in scene 1: “Even now, now, very now, and old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe. Arise! Arise! (88-9)
I would like to add the effect of Shakespeare having Iago say this in the dark. It is an effective metaphor that serves to show the overarching racism towards Othello. Iago speaks to Brabantio from the dark to distort Othello’s character to Brabantio by associating darkness of the night with skin color and making both seem evil. He is successful because Brabantio replies: “It is too true and evil. Gone she is,(161)” That eventually leads to Brabantio executing orders, “And raise some special officers of the night!” (183) The later adds to the notion that because Othello is dark in skin tone, he should be treated differently and that because it is night Brabantio has to get some officers that are good at dealing with things when it is dark out. All of the above only highlights the racism that ensues Othello. It is those experiences that make him have to prove himself to his fair-skinned acquaintances by being an outstanding general.
Mason states that Othello is constantly “racialized” by Iago. When he manipulated Othello to the point of “suspicion” and “agitation” by telling him that if she deceived her father, she can deceive him also. Mason also argues that Iago—“a man coldly obsessed with sex” and “unable to love” is the kind of man one can expect to also be “racialist.” I would like to add that Iago racializes Othello in order to be racist towards him. So Iago being a man that is lustful would clearly be one that is focused on the physical and so would be racist as he still would be focused on the physical except now in appearances. I suspect that Mason does not deem Iago to be racist because of his jealousy towards Othello. That means that he being jealous of Othello means that he believes that Othello is “better” than him. That is evident in the fact that Othello is a General and in a far superior militant position to Iago. Iago does not even consider yet to take Othello’s place; he only hates that Cassio was promoted instead of him and wants Cassio’s position as lieutenant. Mason elaborates further that Othello’s doubt of Desdamona’s love for him spurred on by Iago, is rooted in “racialism” when Othello says, “And Yet how mature erring from itself…(232)” and is unable to finish the sentence (158). When Iago states, “Of her own clime, complexion and degree. (235)” That is precisely when Iago plunges the knife deeper into Othello’s insecurity. (Mason 158)” Daniel J. Witkus notes textual evidence of Othello’s blackness serving as a contrast to Desdemona’s white innocence.(173) I want to add that this is when Iago’s racism towards Othello is at it’s climax. Its as if Iago is saying that Desdemona did not truely want the dark-skinned Moor and she actually wanted one of Venice, Cassio. He also tries to establish himself as superior to Othello through his manipulation and trickery that is left unchecked by Othello.
Shylock is the one that is “racialized” because there is no textual evidence stating that Shylock’s skin complexion is any different from say that of Antonio or Portia like the way Morocco or Othello’s is. When Portia enters the court, she asks, “which is the merchant here and The Jew?(169)” Shylock is racialized and mistreated for being a Jew throughout the play. Othello was already dark-skinned, so he is not necessarily racialized when compared to Shylock. The later is first racialized only to face religious discrimination incredibly akin to racism. Both Othello and Shylock are needed for some special skill. Othello is needed because of his above-average militant skills. While Shylock is needed because of his money and in that time Jews could only open banks and weren’t allowed to invest their money anywhere else (Siegfried 2016).
Both Othello and Morocco face racism as they are judged by their complexions. As evidenced earlier Iago, Roderigo and Brabanzio are all racist towards Othello, and constantly refer to him as the Moor. Portia is also racist towards Morocco. Both Othello and Morocco feel that they have to defend their complexion in a society that constantly brings attention to difference in their appearances, specifically skin color. This is how Moroco defends himself: “Mislike me not for my complexion,/ The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun,/ To whom I am a neighbor and near bred.(2.1.1)” Like Othello, Morocco feels like he has to defend his appearances by being twice as better than other men that do not have those appearances. That is why Morocco does not just stop there and continues, “I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine/Hath feared the valiant.(2.1.9)” Othello, as discussed earlier, is forced to defend himself by showcasing his bravery and militancy. He can be seen as a more in-depth version of Morocco. Both Othello and Morocco are not racialized compared to Shylock, who “looks” no different than the “Christians.” Both Othello and Morocco’s “race” gets talked about behind their backs in the play. In their behavior, they sense that this is the case and have it done to their faces too.
Shylock’s treatment by the people in Venice seems to be much worse than Morocco’s. This leads to the assumption that Shylock has character traits that make him susceptible to constant bullying. It is not only that he is labeled “the Jew.” Morocco basks in being treated differently and proclaims that his dark skin color is what makes supposedly brave men fear him. While Morocco acts the star, Shylock constantly feels victimized. In his insistence that he gets a piece of Antonio’s flesh, lies the kind of revenge that indicates a tiredness of being bullied and the need for dignity like Morocco’s.
Both Othello and Cocoa experience insecurities about their appearances in reference to their significant other and it can be argued that insecurity has to do with “race” and racism. Cocoa and her husband George get into their “worst fight ever. (230-232)” Cocoa is getting dressed for an evening out which would have guests that she went to school with. She wants to get extra special for the occasion as she doesn’t want the guests that all know her to think he “couldn’t get any other woman but [her] (233)” and asks George how she looks. When he answered that she looks fine, she was unsatisfied with that answer and didn’t think George was being honest. She tells George, “I think you’re the last authority on make up for me since you spend all your time running around with white women before I rescued you.(233)” They then go into a squabble about who is being stupid and Cocoa pouts, “Well I’m sure all your white women weren’t ignorant.” George responds, “A Woman—Shawn. Shawn! (234)” Here George employs “colorblind ideology” that Cocoa does not adhere which we see earlier from her experience job hunting in New York City. George would rather he and his wife see Shawn as a woman and not as a white woman. However, perhaps Cocoa is already under a knowledge that Shawn has gotten her job or has gotten to George first because of her “race.” This leads us back to when Zamudio and other scholars state that, “given the forty years of real or [illusory] gains of a substantial number of people of color, whites [purport] that race is no longer a …significant obstacle for people of color” (484). Under this framework, George is one with those gains—a successful engineer, so he adheres to the colorblind ideology of most whites. While Cocoa coming from the rich black heritage of Willow Springs sees otherwise. George, an African American, sympathizes with the slave owner, Bascombe Wade, at his grave following that argument with Cocoa (248).
When one looks at a hierarchy of race in Othello’s social sphere, he starts to think he is not good enough for his wife, Desdemona, “the white ewe.” When he fully believes Iago, or rather, Iago’s successful manipulation is through that insecurity that has developed in Othello through his experience with racism. We have seen it from Iago and Brabantio, whose treatment of him as if he is lesser than them and not good enough for Desdemona. Even though he has proven himself because he was led to feel as if he should. Cocoa, possibly like Othello, has to work harder and like Othello has garnered more in reward. In Cocoa’s case, that would be she wins George over Shawn and in Othello’s, a reputation and superior warrior skills than his fellow light-skinned soldiers. Both Cocoa and Othello develop character even though Othello had a tragic end.
Race and racism plays significant roles in Mama Day, Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Sometimes fiction can help us to see events that we would not be able to see otherwise. We understand the interplay of race and racism in all three works. We see how racism affects how the characters view themselves and how they navigate their world. I think Morocco is the only character that finds some way to use his “race” to what he perceives to be an advantage. There are examples of that when he says men fear him and also when he states that girls adore him because he’s “different.” One can argue that the overt or traditional racism like that towards Othello is not significant in present day United States. However, with recent incidents like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, a combination of the two exists today. The racism that stems from “colorblind ideology,” that scholars call “colorblind” racism is the dominant form in the 21st century. Jews are still beings persecuted around the world today. Seeing “race” and racism come full circle in the three works discussed builds empathy and understanding and helps us to be more culturally and racially sensitive.
Works Cited
Braxton, Phyllis Natalie. “Othello: The Moor and the Metaphor”. South Atlantic Review 55.4 (1990): 1–17.
Cohen, D. M. “The Jew and Shylock.” Shakespeare Quarterly 31.1 (1980): 53-63. Print.
Greenberg, Jon. “7 Reasons Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It.” Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism Magazine, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
Naylor, Gloria. Mama Day. New York: Vintage, 1993. Print.
Mason, Philip. “Othello and Race Prejudice”. Caribbean Quarterly 8.3 (1962): 154–162. Print.
McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. 2nd ed.
Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2001. Print
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Katharine
Eisaman Maus.The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. 2nd ed. New York:
W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
—.The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and
Katharine Eisaman Maus.The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. 2nd ed.
New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
Siegfried, Brandie. “The Merchant of Venice.” Lecture. Jesse Knight Building, Provo. 7 Mar. 2016.
Vitkus, Daniel J.. “Turning Turk in Othello: The Conversion and Damnation of the Moor”. Shakespeare
Quarterly 48.2 (1997): 145–176. Print.
Zamudio, Margaret M., and Francisco Rios. “From Traditional to Liberal Racism: Living Racism in the
Everyday”. Sociological Perspectives 49.4 (2006): 483–501. Print.

We Wear the Mask

Published November 20, 2016 by lorijss

We Wear the Mask

This classic poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask, in 1896 shows the experiences of the black male and female in a racist and segregationist society. This poem has traditionally been placed in the literary historic era: realism – which showcased reality in descriptive details. On a specific note, racial realism is where the poem belongs as it showcased exactly what blacks were feeling under their collective disguise towards their oppression. Peter Revell argues that the poem serves as an apology to what Dunbar knew would be a condemnation “Of the grin of minstrelsy and the lie of the plantation tradition that Dunbar felt himself bound to adopt ‘myriad subtleties.’” James Emanuel states that the beginning of the poem, “We wear the masks, that grinds and lies/ it hides our cheeks and our eyes, “ Dunbar wants to point out that the mask itself is smiling but underneath the black man isn’t. He also states that “myriad subtleties” of blacks is an enlargement of the mask to include, “distortion of genuine features.” Michael J. Cummings asserts that blacks in the 19th century when Dunbar was writing this poem, hid the pain and anger that they had towards whites and also from each other. If blacks were to reveal their true feelings about whites’ lack of common sense to know they were ill-treating them, they would risk even more maltreatment on top of what they already had to deal with.

Sometimes, Cummings asserts, blacks would hold back their feelings of oppression as defeat was difficult to articulate and, “could impose deep anxiety amongst loved ones.” So many blacks walked around looking content but inside they were in distress.
I am arguing that “We Wear the Mask” was a poem that was a predetermined reaction to whites’ enjoyment of works that adhered to amassing stereotypes. Dunbar knew what he was doing and was acknowledging he was not alone in what he was feeling as this was an experience that African Americans encountered. After a while Dunbar got tired of living down to the stereotypes that whites imposed on him both as an involvement in minstrelsy and in dialect poetry. He knew that more black stereotypes were going to be imposed on blacks crippling them past, present and future and in order to survive under the constant strains of racism he would have to not forget who he was in the face of what whites wanted him to be. We wear the mask is admitting to oneself the coping-mechanism blacks utilize in the face of menial work, Klu Klux Klan, and the Plessy vs. Ferguson, “separate but equal” nonsense.
Dunbar was already accustomed to whites’ always telling blacks who they were and that in return would become the “mask” that blacks wear. In other words whatever whites said blacks were was in itself the mask that they’d wear to get by. We Wear the Mask was a poem in Dunbar’s collection Major and Minor that he wrote before Howell’s review of the collection which focused on only the dialect ones. I feel it necessary to examine how We Wear the Mask was already a reaction to the impending racist and racially insensitive critique of Dunbar’s poetry collection by William Howell. Concerning Dunbar’s material Howell states, “…and in his treatment of it he has been able to bring us nearer to the heart of primitive human nature in his race than anyone else has yet done.” The latter is an example of what Dunbar and other African Americans were accustomed to, whites telling blacks who they were or who they ought to be. This accustoming was what made the poem a preexisting reaction. Howell goes on to say, “Here in the artistic effect, at least, is white thinking and white feeling in a black man.” This later statement is racist because it’s implying that when a black man thinks and feels, he is white. One can assume that Dunbar’s poem was overlooked or quite frankly pushed aside. And ironically, this poem was a pre-existing reaction to ideologies such as Howell’s critique which in itself only proves what Dunbar already saw coming.
We Wear the mask was so realistic that by it being a preexisting reaction, showcased that the general attitude of white audiences to blacks no matter where the show was, was essentially the same. Whites saw black minstrel as really what blacks experienced when in fact it was just the opposite. The ways in which the poem was a preexisting reaction to impending white racism is as follows: “this debt we pay human guile” could be interpreted in different ways. It could be saying that we as blacks put up with whites ignorance to make a living and make sure there is food on the table for our families. “We” get involved with minstrelsy at the expense of our humanity and authentic African American identity. Dunbar wrote dialect poetry because that was what white readers expected “Black” poetry to consist of. But these poetry was exaggeration and sarcasm, poking fun at many whites’ predominantly false and racially stereotypical views of blacks. I am even going to go as far as stating that this was passive resistance. “With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,” is saying that we as blacks use a coping mechanism to deal with the racial discrimination that we face on a daily basis by smiling and looking like we are content but inside we are pretty much dying. That line could be talking about the very dialect poetry included in the collection with a portrayal of blacks as golly, jolly and content with plantation slavery life.
Dunbar’s reply to Howell’s review is not only an example of the mask that he is talking about in the poem but a portrayal of the extent of the poem’s realism. In the reply he says, “I feel much as a poor insignificant, hopeless boy would feel to have himself knighted…my whole life has been simple, obscure and uneventful.” In this reaction one can see that this exemplifies the, “Nay let them only see us, while we wear the mask,” line of the poem. Scholar, Gene Jarrett asserts that Dunbar had mixed feelings about Howell’s review, and that sixteen days after it appeared Dunbar sent Howell a letter stating that he read the article and felt what it had done. This is an example of Dunbar wearing the very “Mask’ that he confesses he does in his poem, as with many other African Americans in the 19th century. An example of Dunbar wearing the mask only adds to the realistic vigor of the poem. Jarret adds that a year later after thanking Howells, Dunbar in what appears to be a regret of his positive and humble reaction towards Howell’s review said that there was a, “ ‘irrevocable harm in the dictum that Howell laid down regarding [my] dialect verse. (500)’ ” I want to add that this regret was rooted in Dunbar’s forethought that Howell would praise the dialect poetry as whites saw Dunbar as a “racial novelty fit to entertain the white masses not to challenge them” (Black and White), or to break down the white denominated literary marketplace. Jarrett states that scholars have argued that Dunbar’s dialect poems were actually a protest against “minstrel realism” although on the surface it seemed to be perpetrating it. One can see the resistance and a more evident protest in “We Wear the Mask.”
Black minstrelsy was not a realistic portrayal of African Americans. However, the poem “We Wear the Mask” was, as it was uprooted from Black minstrelsy in order to showcase the pained realities of African American life— what was really happening under the mask. The poem also adds a racial lens to realism. The power of the social construct of race is of vital importance in the understanding and appreciation of the poem. It also becomes more meaningful when it is read from the historically racial backdrop from whence it sprung. That way readers can relate or empathize.

Works Cited

“Black and White: Paul Laurence Dunbar and Race in Post-Civil War Literature.” Publishers’
Bindings Online: Paul Laurence Dunbar. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

Dunbar, Lawrence. “We Wear the Mask.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed.
Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 2127-35. Print.

“Dunbar’s Reply to Howell’s Review.” Academic Divisions. Sinclair Community College, n.d.
Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

Jarrett, Gene. “Entirely Black Verse From Him Would Succeed.” Nineteenth –
Century Literature 59.4 (2005): 494-525. ProQuest. Web. 2 Dec. 2015

William, Howell. “Rev. Of Majors and Minors by Lawrence Dunbar. Harper’s Weekly. 27 June
1896: 630-631. Print.

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Black and White in Possession

Published July 24, 2016 by lorijss

Black and white in Possession

The use of “white” and “black” in Possession by A.S Byatt is worth exploring. White is used 263 times in the text. “White” was used so many times that it has caught my attention and is impossible to overlook but perhaps ignored by many scholars. As a result, I will explore the different uses of the word white. Firstly, in Possession, the word white is associated with beauty while black is associated with “evilness.” When describing Maud, the protagonist, Byatt writes, “the whiteness of her, which was part of her extreme magnetism. (301)” While evident in the novel, it is mostly evident in the tale, “The Glass Coffin.” Perhaps Byatt is trying to show how the terms blackness and whiteness are used in language. However, an African-American reader reading “black” as evil and “white” as beautiful, may see it as an insult or even racist. Perhaps Byatt is showing the damaging effects of the terms in fairytales. The representation of dark of black as immoral is consistent in “The Glass Coffin” and makes one wonder if white represent the opposite in the rest of the book.
“The Glass Coffin” tale seems to highlight the repetitiveness of “white” in the novel. When the tailor first enters the “strange household,” in the fire corner stood a “black-and-white goat. (66)” Because of how hardworking the tailor is, the little man gave him the choice of three gifts. A soft leather purse, the second “a cooking pot, black outside, polished and gleaming inside. (67)” Lastly, “a glass key glittering with all the colors of the rainbow.(67)” When the tailor left the strange household, he stumbled upon a box and saw, “a face, the most beautiful face he could’ve dreamed of or imagined…a still white face.(71)” It is clear, the purported association of whiteness with beauty. The princess then goes on to describe how her brother let a stranger in their home. And how he took pleasure in his company and she felt sorrow clearly for feeling left out. She said the stranger strode into the chamber where she’d awaken with his, “black curly hair and dangerous smiley face. (72)” Persons of African descent have black curly hair so that can be interpreted as such.
“White” in the novel becomes the backdrop by which a stark contrast to “black” in the tale can be made. When the princess said her brother had gone hunting with the stranger—upon return, she states, “And out of the dark woods came the black man, leading his horse on one arm, and on the other a tall grey hound with the saddest face I have ever seen on any creature. This accentuates the notion that blackness leads to sorrow. She continues, “he told me my brother had suddenly gone away, and would return no more for a great and uncertain length of time and had left me, and the castle, in charge of him, the dark magician.(73)” By stating dark magician she is implying that his darkness is up to no good.
As with any fairytale, there is a winning victory of a knight in shining armor rescuing a white princess. “The Glass Coffin” is no different as this is how the “black man” died in the tale: “The black artist appeared on the threshold, wrapped in a swirling black cloak, smiling most ferociously…when he came up, put out a hand to touch the lady, whereupon our hero with all his might at his heart, and the glass splinter entered deeply and he fell to the ground.(73)” The author makes the black artiste dress black in an effort to make him more evil, bad, or immoral.
The tailor won the heart of the white princess by not only freeing her from the box with his glass key but by defeating the “black artist.” The tale concludes, “Then the lady told her brother that the little tailor had rescued her from her sleep and had killed the black artist and had won her hand in marriage.(75)” Symbolically, Maud is the white princess and the tailor is the ideal version of Roland, the male protagonist, who could win Maud’s heart.
Much later on in the novel, we find Byatt writing, “He waited. Two people, a black man and a white woman exhausted their cards. (370)” I believe that this line has significance. Why not just say, two people? A man and a woman? Why say a black man and a white woman? Perhaps Byatt is showcasing diversity and how black and white as words defined in the English language, are just that—language and are completely separated from the psyche of persons or should be separated from the psyche of individuals. We know that this is not the case in “The Glass Coffin” but we can say “black on the outside, polished and gleaming on the inside” means beauty is in the eye of the beholder or beauty is only skin-deep. Also, “the glass key glittering with all the colors of the rainbow” could symbolize diversity.



A search of “white” in Possession on kindle produces 263 results.
Did not find any articles on subject matters –the use of “black” or repetitive use of white in Possession