Race and Its Place in American Literature

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Literature is often used as an expression, reflecting what’s taking place in the author’s life at the time. When you bring race into the picture, it can make literature come off as opinionated or schismatic. Race is obviously determined by internal characteristics however it exploring the word deeper can become a sensitive task, speaking that grouping each other by race has been a basis for suppressing and oppressing people of large groups.

Because of race, humans are naturally divided, some cases are self separation whereas others are forced separation. Around the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century, race had become a recurring theme in literature. Slave Narratives encapsulate autobiographical accounts of enslaved Africans which makes up a genre of its own.

It is argued amongst many that race is a social construct, this was mentioned over 100 years ago by W.E.B Dubois as he was concerned that race was a social and cultural differences between different populations of people. Today, scientist would back Dubois’ beliefs that race is a social construct without biological meaning. With the end of colonialism, postcolonialism was started for scholars who focused theme of race and other related issues in postcolonial studies, which allows the reader to view the literature from the same point of view as the suppressed, underprivileged, minority characters that are portrayed in the stories.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which tells us the story of slavery within the United States. The author, Stowe chooses to engage her readers to change the narrative of slavery, by revealing the horrors of slavery which created attention the abolonist movement. Throughout the States, tensions between Southern slaveholders and nonslaveholding Northerners which then brought the nation to a civil war. President Lincoln who was President at the time met with Beecher before the start of the war calling her “the little lady who made this big war”. Though Stowe brought attention to the struggles of a slave, she also chooses to display common stereotypes in the African American community.

Having characters such as “pickaninny” black children, Uncle Tom, Sambo and the darkskin mammy caused Stowe to pick up some controversy surrounding her literature. Stowe also visits a common theme surrounding black writing, which is Tom promoting and staying true to Christianity and it’s beliefs. This is also seen in the early 18th century in most of Phyllis Wheatley’s work. On Being Brought from Africa to America, she says “ Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.” implying that Christians should follow their Christian principles. Wheatley employs Christianity to prove that people are equal regardless of skin color or race.

Prior to the Civil War fugitive slaves began to establish themselves with personal narratives, these narratives are essential pieces of history in eighteenth – and nineteenth-century American literature. Slave Narratives serve as historical documents presenting the evolution of white supremacy in southern states from eighteenth-century slavery through early twentieth-century segregation and disfranchisement. The dialogue that is instilled in slave narratives encompasses some of the most extensive and influential traditions known to African American culture and literature.

Classic American Literature pieces such as Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, possess direct influence of slave narratives. Twelve Years A Slave a narrative by Soloman Northup, published one year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin however the storylines are indistinguishable. Religion is commonly used as a theme in both pieces of literature, Solomon and Tom both believed keeping devout relationship with God would some day work in their favor, this theme is often explored throughout slave literature.

It was not until the Depression era when slaves when novels written by African Americans outnumbered the amount of slave narratives published.

Slave and ex-slave narratives are important not only for what they tell us about African American history and literature, but also because they reveal the complexities of the white-black dialog in this country over the past two centuries, especially for African Americans. Throughout the history of literature, stories that are written around race may involve feuding or clashing simply because the natural division that we have as humans.

White writers often use stereotypes in stories about slavery with hopes of creating a common ground with the reader, negatively or postivily. The stereotypes can help to fabricate the story, Stowe incorporated her stereotypes to help readers gain sympathy for those who were enslaved.

Cite this paper

Race and Its Place in American Literature. (2020, Dec 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/race-and-its-place-in-american-literature/

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