Professor Wai Chee Dimock
Engl 012—Literary Cities
Final Paper Outline
Exploring The Language of Politically Divisive Issues in Native Son and The Golden Gate
- Native Son and The Golden Gate both deal with politically divisive issues, in race and the anti-nuclear movement respectively.
- Give political/historical context.
- In Native Son, Richard Wright uses the motif/extended metaphor of blindness to depict the divisive issue of race.
- Due to the nature of using blindness as an extended metaphor to depict the novel’s politically divisive issue, Wright is able to end the novel with partial
- In The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth employs four main dichotomies to depict the divisive issue of the anti-Nuclear Movement. They are:
- Technology/Science vs. Arts/Humanities
- Patriotism/Traditional Values vs. un-American behavior
- Life vs. Death
- Humans vs. Animals
Blindness is a huge theme in Native Son, both literally (Mrs. Dalton) and metaphorically. In this section of my paper, I plan to explore and classify the different types of blindness that arise in the novel in terms of how they Richard Wright help depict race. Specifically, I seek to establish/clarify a dichotomy/relationship between blindness vs. “blindness”, blindness and unawareness, and being blind to race vs. being blind to a race.
1) Blindness of Mr. Dalton and Police ~ Blindness of White Society to African-Americans (Institutional Racism)
- We see blindness in Mr. Dalton and the Police throughout the story. This metaphorical “blindness” can be categorized as blindness to the African-American race.
- Police blindness == overlooking Bigger because how could a Negro possibly be smart enough to do this.
- Dalton—still sells worse housing to African-Americans at higher rates
“Now who on Earth would think that he, a black timid Negro boy, would murder and burn a rich white girl and would sit and wait for his breakfast like this? Elation filled him” (107)
“Mr. Dalton was blind” (107).
“But [Blacks] could not live across the ‘line.’ Even though Mr. Dalton gave millions of dollars for Negro education, he would rent houses to Negroes only in this prescribed area, this corner of the city tumbling down from rot” (174).
2) Metaphorical Blindness of Bessie and Bigger’s Family
- The Blindness we see in Bessie and Bigger’s family is one that exists only in Bigger’s mind. Bigger feels a sense of freedom from killing Mary and getting away with it (initially), and believes his family and loved ones to be blind to do what it takes in order to feel this freedom.
- This isn’t logical thinking on the part of Bigger, and thus this “blindness” doesn’t really exist. Rather, it is a product of Bigger’s own blindness, which will explored shortly.
- The only real blindness that those close to Bigger have is blindness in the sense of being unaware of his crime.
***Further commentary on institutionalized racism, as it shows what extreme lengths Bigger must go to (and thinks others must go to) in order to escape this oppressive system.
-Furthermore, it helps set up the notion of Bigger’s own blindness, a way of discussing that the divisive issue of race isn’t only a one-way street, and that it is more complicated that Whites simply forcing African-Americans into inferior positions ***
“He felt in the quiet presence of his mother, brother, and sister a force, inarticulate and unconscious, making for living without thinking, making for peace and habit, making for a hope that blinded. He felt that they wanted and yearned to see life in a certain way; they needed a certain picture of the world; there was one way of learning what they preferred above all others; and they were blind to what did not fit” (107).
“The whole thing came to him in the form of a powerful and simple feeling; there was in everyone a great hunger to believe that made him blind, and if he could see while others were blind, then he could get what he wanted and never be caught at it” (107).
“Yes; Bessie was blind. He was about to write a kidnap note and she was worried about the cleanliness of her room” (175).
Bessie: “But you got me into this murder and I see it all now. I been a fool, a blind dumb drunk black fool” (230).
3) Literal Blindness of Mrs. Dalton
- While many characters in Native Son are “blind”, Mrs. Dalton is actually blind.
- However, of all the characters, she is perhaps the least “blind”. She is blind to race.
- Physically, her other senses allow her to be just as aware, if not more so, as any other character. This could be a commentary on her being more socially aware than white society in general.
- See page 60
*** In addition to this, the literal blindness of Mrs. Dalton allows Wright to use metaphorical blindness as a way of depicting and discussing the complicated issues surrounding race in the story***
“Mrs. Dalton’s always trying to help somebody” (55)
(On helping their previous African-American servant, Green, through night school)
“’But Mrs. Dalton’s the one who’s really nice. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be doing what he does. She had millions when he married her…most of the money’s hers. She’s blind poor thing” (56).
4) Bigger’s Own Blindness
- Bigger, who finds ways to call everyone blind and believes himself to possess a clarity of vision that others lack, is perhaps the most blind of anyone.
- His “blindness” is blindness to white society
- This blindness is shown particularly in the way that he spurns help from Mrs. Dalton, Mary, Jan, and Max, and the fact that he believes them to be blind.
Rejects Mrs. Dalton’s help (62).
“Jan was blind. Mary had been blind…And Mrs. Dalton was blind; yes, in more ways than one” (107).
“Had he been this blind all along?” (362)
*** Wright’s use of the extended metaphor of blindness throughout the novel has been his primary way of depicting the divisive issue of race. The case of Bigger is no different. Wright spends so much time on blindness to establish/reinforce Bigger’s own blindness, making it impossible to miss. This adds to/complicates Wright’s discussion of race, making it more complex than just “a one way street”***
5) Finally Seeing—Reconciliation with Max (and Jan?)
- I think that Bigger’s Blindness is a product of the divided society from which he comes. Moreover, he seems to recognize his own blindness at the end.
- He undoubtedly reconciles with Max, and I believe, and will argue, that he does with Jan as well. This reconciliation is Bigger finally seeing.
- PAGE: (424)
*** Blindness is a condition with only two outcomes. In other words, one is either blind or they are not. Choosing to use the extended metaphor of blindness allows Wright to have Bigger “see” at the end of the novel, thus bringing his discussion of race to a partial resolution. I say partial resolution because I think much of the divisive issue is left unresolved (I.E. is Bigger a product of the society riddled with institutional racism) and analyzing that is beyond the scope of this paper***
The Golden Gate
1) Technology/Science vs. Arts/Humanities
- The first dichotomy in the language surrounding the anti-Nuclear movement consists of the two “sides” of San Francisco: the tech side and the artsy side.
- This dichotomy facilitates the relationship between Phil (anti-Nukes) and John (pro-Nukes)
- The fact that Phil and John grown more and more throughout the novel underscore the divisive nature of the political issue.
- The artistic style of the book, which employs verse rather than the structure of a traditional novel, clues the reader into Seth’s opinion on the matter.
“And your job gives you satisfaction?”
“It’s fun—it’s well paid—it’s a new challenge”
“What is it John”
“Compaction of payloads…Phil, it can’t be true that you—the whiz of computers, Beloved of bosses everywhere, the author of that learned tract on guidance systems—could in fact blow your career—and for dumb slogans.”
“To save the world, what’s dumb in that”
In passages 4.18-4.20, Phil proceeds to drop many artistic/humanities references, in opposition to the tech/science world of John.
“Each artist or writer there, each poet whose seen the truth and tried to show it to his compatriots has been banned, starved, or reviled in his own land…” (143)
“Massive machine of omnicide, impassive, oiled by inertia and by hate and the smooth silver of the state” (157)
2) Patriotism/Traditional Values vs. un-American Behavior
- In this dichotomy, language around patriotism is used on the pro-Nuke side while un-American behavior is used on the anti-Nuke side.
“‘I think the whole thing’s a disgrace,’ John bursts out, ‘and undemocratic.’ ‘Right on, John!’ Phil says with emphatic, surprised assent.’ John says, ‘No, I meant your attack upon the lab, not what they’re doing…You’re screwing your country while you claim to be the high priests of humanity’” (143).
“A Lungless Labs spokeswoman: ‘Really, these games cost the taxpayer dearly, and have a minimal effect upon the labs. To misdirect attack upon an institution that serves the nation’s a perverse, quixotic, petulant, or worse, an un-American resolution. As every president can attest, what we do here is for the best.’” (153)
“The world may be left charred and grieving in man-made doom at the behest of patriotic interest?” (164)
“’Jan, these psychotic peaceniks have no respect for the law” (271).
3) Life vs. Death
- Perhaps the most overt and obvious dichotomy in the language surrounding Seth’s discussion of the anti-nuclear movement is that of life and death.
- We see this dichotomy in O’Hare’s speech.
- The directness of this long-speech and the constant references to life/death makes this issue impossible to overlook.
“…walk hand in hand toward the place where death is planned” (150)
-The entirety of passage 7.6
“What if you leave a slew of living dead, of radioactive ‘collateral damage’ in its wake?” (151)
“They breed their bombs here; others aim them—young targeteers at their controls—at living souls, to kill and maim them (Although their unemotive goals talk not of ‘death’ but ‘optimizing effective yield’)…” (152)
“Work for life, not death” (152)
“’Today we meet in a celebration of life’” (157)
“There is not time, when escalation bloats our stockpiles with overkill, when secular proliferation means that the score of nations will soon hatch these eggs, and with manic slaver we froth the world to panic, to nourish niceties.” (161)
“’Let me close with Deuteronomy’s plain prose. Here it is: ‘I have set before you life and death…therefore choose life.’’” (165)
“A coffin, fashioned like a missle…” (169)
4) Humans vs. Animals
- The final main dichotomy we see in the language surrounding the anti-nuclear movement is that of humans vs. animals.
- We see this final dichotomy in two key places
- Liz’s speech at the Lungless rally
- Who Liz chooses, John or Charlemagne (the cat).
Liz’s Speech –sections 7.45-7.47
“Impervious to pleas and pity, to tender bribes and winning wiles, the stratagems of Psycho-Kitty, lamp, catnip, scratching post, and smiles, Charlemagne in his guts and sinews detests John still, and John continues to rave whenever wronged, and flail his arms around his head, assail his foe with missiles and invective, and mutter ‘It’s that cat or me Liz…’”(192).
“’Well take your anti-nuclear cat to brand you with Agent Orange—that’s a name more suited to his joyless frame.’” (193).
“’This amnesty she’d grant her pet’” (195).
5) Why the language exists in Dichotomies
- The anti-nuclear political issue is a very divisive issue. The divisiveness is critical to the narrative.
- By using clear opposites in his language surrounding the anti-nuclear debate, Seth underscores the divisive nature of the issue.
- Compare the effects of using one continuous motif surrounding the language of a divisive political issue vs. using a variety of seemingly unrelated dichotomies.
- Race, as dealt with in Native Son is not a two-sided issue but rather exists on a spectrum.
- On the other hand, the anti-nuclear movement, as dealt with in The Golden Gate is much more black and white (one side or the other)
- The choice of language surrounding their respective divisive political issues helps achieve these two different effects.
Comments on first draft:
The imbalance in your outline worries me: while the section on Native Son is extremely well developed, the section on The Golden Gate is so sketchy that it might not be of much help to you in writing the paper. In light of that, and since I’m not entirely sure that there would be enough about blindness in The Golden Gate to anchor the second half of the essay, you might want to revise your topic somewhat: focusing instead on the politically decisive issue in each novel, and analyzing how each is depicted. In Native Son, the politically divisive issue is race, depicted by Wright in part through the language of blindness. In The Golden Gate, the politically divisive issue is the anti-nuclear movement: how is it depicted by Seth?
I think it may be helpful to put Mrs. Dalton’s literal blindness later in the paper, though, just so you can establish something to compare it to. Maybe before Bigger’s own blindness? I also think you may want to beef up the Golden Gate part just because it seems pretty small in comparison to the awesome stuff about Native Son. Great work, though. I’m looking forward to reading your paper! –Emma
Comments on second draft:
You are definitely headed in the right direction. To integrate the two halves of the essay, make sure to reorient the discussion of Native Son, shifting the focus away from blindness to the experiential gulf created by race. For The Golden Gate, I’m not sure the divisiveness comes from the conflict between science/technology and arts/humanities, since both Phil and John are techies. The two are at odds because Phil is unwilling to use his talents to develop weapons that can cause mass casualties, and gives up a well-paying job for that reason, which John considers foolish. The gulf that opens up between John and Liz is more complicated still. I look forward to in-depth explorations of all these issues!