Racism has been a delicate and sensitive topic in the history of America as a nation. It continues to become a contentious issue even in modern times. Human beings decided to classify themselves according to clans, ethnic communities, countries, and race. Cultural stereotypes have been formed, and various people view one another differently. The debate on race relations has been there for centuries, and world leaders have all tried to have a solution to this problem. Discrimination against a whole group of people has great effects on any given society. People wrote about intolerance to help fight it, and novelists William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison captured this delicate matter in their novels. William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man are novels that have touched on America’s race relations in the 20th century.
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Race Relations in the Two Novels
Faulkner gives light to the African American people’s plea in his book Intruder in the Dust. In this novel, Faulkner uses a Southern American society’s story to tell of the significant discrimination and hate that the black people went through at this time. Being a poor black man, Lucas is accused of killing a white man. It was a great crime for a black man to kill a white man at this time in history, which could be punishable through lynching and not even through trial (Ram 5). White supremacy was evident, and the African Americans were not given rights, not even a fair trials. There was a culture of hate that had brewed against the black people, which had been present since the period of slavery. Lucas was innocent of his crime, but he was considered guilty before being proven guiltless since he was a black man. As evidence to explain the unhealthy race relations in the South at this moment, Lucas was considered a deviant person of color by the white folks. He had refused to accept his inferiority as a black man.
African Americans had been reduced to low-grade citizens, and they were denied jobs and even the right to vote or run for any political seat. They were second-class citizens who were supposed to be workers for rich white people. Faulkner uses his novel to showcase the relationship that existed between the white and the black people. The southerners had declared black people to be a problem and were confident of wiping them out of their society. The white people were not ready to give Lucas a free trial since they organized a lynch mob that marched to the sheriff’s office. The crowd was prepared to get Lucas and lynch him for killing a white man. Here the level of hatred that exists for the black man is seen to manifest. Lucas was never going to get a free trial, and this would be another case of an innocent black man lynched for a crime he did not commit.
Ellison uses his novel to reveal the life that a normal black man lived in America at this time in history. In Invisible Man, the author uses the story of a single black man who tries to discover his identity and find his worth in society. African Americans had been reduced to mere existing creatures and, sadly, they were considered property in the American constitution. They did not have rights and were not living a meaningful life like other Americans. The narrator in this novel is a stereotypical black man who was uneducated and did not have the necessary life skills to survive. He was young and naïve and without opportunities to explore. Many of the young black men in this time were facing similar problems. Elliot uses the Southern and Northern regions’ stories to show the white-dominated society in which the black people were supposed to live (Sharapova and Kahharova 453). Elliot touches so much on the plea of the black person in a white America. The discrimination, the stereotyping, and the violence and police brutality they went through as a people. Race relations as portrayed in the book Invisible Man, are poor and unhealthy.
The two novels exploit and showcase the level of racial tensions and discrimination that existed in the period after the Second World War. Both authors have used the lives of two black men to tell their stories. They unveil the true nature of race relations in America at the period and show how racism was deep-rooted in the country. Both stories account for the poor treatment that the black people got and how the white man considered himself superior. In both stories, the race relations between the white and black folks were tense and unhealthy. Hatred and violence were prominent, and segregation was a norm in society. Black people were denied fundamental human rights, and their dignity was taken away from them. The two authors showcase the hardship that the black people have to live in through their stories. The authors tell of the plea of the black people through the lens of literature in the stories they tell.
Differences in the Authors’ Perspectives
However, there is a massive difference in how the two authors depict the foul race relations in America. Faulkner uses the story of an elderly black man who has been falsely accused of murder. The Author directly shows the hatred that the white people have for the blacks. The white folks hate Lucas for going against their white superiority nature and not feeling inferior. Ellison takes a not straightforward approach and explores his case through the life of a young black man. Ralph uses a long shot to elaborate on the discrimination against black people. The young man in Ellison’s story is naïve and still does not know much. He thinks that the white man is superior and tries hard to impress the white man and live according to his standards. Ellison utilizes the stereotypes used to describe the black people in his story to educate the white man that it is wrong to judge people of color based on these assumptions.
The period when the two Novels were written and events during the Period
These two books were written between 1948 and 1952, a period when racial tensions were high in the United States. There were numerous cases of racially targeted violence against black people. The White folks refused to integrate the people of color into their society, and African Americans were separated from the Whites. Racial interaction was prohibited, and interracial relationships were not tolerated (Ram 110). Black people were not allowed in white schools, and malls only offered services to white people. The two authors lived through this period and were advocating for equality through the stories they wrote about and acted as activists through their books. During this period, civil rights activist groups arose to fight for the equal treatment of all people. They fought for the rights of African Americans and wanted an end to the continued violence and unlawful treatment of black people.
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The civil rights campaigns helped significantly to get the black people equal treatment and some rights. They were still discriminated against, and institutionalized racism became prominent. Equality of the races became a known slogan, but racism was still deep-rooted in the American system. The lynching stopped, the street violence stopped, but the African Americans were not fully emancipated. They still faced extreme discrimination, and many black families were poor and impoverished. Police brutality and the killing of innocent black people still happened. In modern American society, racism is still a problem, and race relations have not fully become harmonious. Black people were allowed to vote after the civil rights period passed, but they were still not represented in the elected seats.
The lives of black people have not changed at all, and it is only the system that has changed. Many black people are arrested as compared to white people, who are a majority. The number of black women who die during childbirth is higher than that of white women. The infant mortality rates and the poverty rates are all high in African American society (Sharapova et al. 453). There still are racial tensions among the people in the United States at present. There have been numerous cases of unlawful arrests and police brutality targeted at black people. As a result of these inhumane and demeaning treatments, the ‘Black Lives Matter movement became famous. This movement advocates for the better treatment of people of color and an end to police brutality and police killings of African Americans. Black people, as a race, have still not found freedom in this land, America. They still have to fight for their rights, equal treatment, and respect as human beings in the 21st century.
Ram, Chhotu. “Inflexible Flexibility: William Faulkner’s Concern over the Negro Problem.” The Literary Herald-Journal, vol. 2, no. 4, 2017, pp. 107-113.
Sharapova, Gulshan, and Shaxlo Kahharova. “The Negro Problem of Identity and Existence in the Novel “Invisible Man” By Ralph Ellison.” The American Journal of Social Science and Education Innovations, vol. 3, no. 2, 2021, pp. 451-455.