Compare and comparison the ways that American writers Toni Morrison and Richard Wright have conceived the partnership between racial oppression and the organization of the family in their respective works Beloved and Native Son.
Both Morrison's Dearest and Richard Wright's Native Son depict and analyse the brutalities, violence and dehumanizing ramifications of racism in American population, but they presentation o the relationship between racism and the institution of the family differs and has some other emphasis in each book. These distinctions can be linked to the vastly different contexts of creation of each creator and, as a consequence, their own very different ideological view of the answer to the dysfuncionality of the organization of the black family and dark life in general. However, both Wright and Morrison would surely agree that the dysfuncionality of dark families is the result of the annals and facts of slavery in the USA and the ongoing racist attitudes of this country. There are also differences as a result of gender of the chief protagonist: Morrison's Sethe is a mother and Morrison explores the dynamics of being a mom under the system of slavery, while Wright explores a kind of black masculinity throughout a decade of monetary recession.
Racism in Dearest is shown as a dehumanizing push, destructive of real human dignity but especially harmful of the family. As Beaulieu reviews 'the contradictions and horrors of slavery are most evidently visible in Cherished. ' (Beaulieu (2003) p 308). Baby Suggs has has eight children by six different fathers. She says "I put eight. Everyone of these eliminated from me. " (Morrison (1987) p5).
Two of her daughters vanish so quickly that Suggs cannot even bid farewell to them; one son is is bought and sold for hardwood (Morrison op cit p23). Slave owners possessed slaves and looked at them as items and could get rid of them at will, so mothers and the children were simply segregated when they were sold. Baby Suggs demonstrates on this deliberate destruction of family ties and bonds under the machine of slavery:
. . . in all of Baby's life, as well as Sethe's own, men and women were mover around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs understood, let alone adored, who hadn't run off or been hanged, acquired rented out, loaned out, bought up, cut back, stored up, mortgaged, acquired, taken or seized. What she called the nastiness of life was the surprise she received upon learning that no person stopped participating in checkers because the parts included her children. (Morrison op cit p23).
Beloved often stress that life at Special Home was strange: Baby Suggs is aware the whereabouts of her last son, Halle, and she is never sexually abused once she actually is there. The Garners, racist and paternalistic because they are, treat their slaves with a modicum of decency _ we learn that Mr Garner never lets his black slaves out to stud. Even Sethe's experience is abnormal: at Sweet Home she has possessed four children by the same man.
Sethe had the amazing good luck of six complete years of relationship to that 'someone' son who had fathered all of her children (Morrison op cit p23).
Her own experience as a kid is more showing, however; she was raised and fed by way of a wet-nurse, Nan, and only saw her real mom on a few rare situations before her mother was hanged (we never find out why). And Sethe is special to her mom too. Nan explains to her
. . . that her mom and Nan were from the sea. Both were taken many times by the team. "She threw all of them away nevertheless, you. The one from the staff she threw away on the island. Others from more whites she also threw away. Without titles she threw them. You she gave the name of the dark-colored man. She put her arms around him. The others she didn't put her hands around. Never. Never. Never. (Morrison op cit p62)
So Sethe's anonymous mother is ready to kill the kids forced after her by rape; what Sethe will to Beloved, in a way, has been foreshadowed by her own mother's actions and it is an action of rebellion from the horror of slavery and its deliberate devastation of dark family life. Ella sets the whole subject even more succinctly: 'If anybody was to ask me I'd say, "Don't love nothing. " (Morrison op cit p92) Because under slavery that love will never be able to be portrayed properly due to disintegration of the family product.
Paul D, reflecting on mother love, echoes Ella's view:
Risky, thought Paul D, very risky. To get a used to be slave woman to love whatever much was dangerous, particularly if it was her children she acquired settled on to love. The best thing, he understood, was to love only a tiny bit; everything, simply a tiny bit, so when they broke its rear, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left for another one. (Morrison op cit p45)
That the events are the consequence of racism is clear. Baby Suggs says
Those white things took all I put or imagined. . . and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world but white people. (Morrison op cit p89)
The attitude of slave owners is succinctly summed by schoolteacher as he trips towards 124, Bluestone Road purpose on re-capturing Sethe and her children and returning them to Nice Home:
Unlike a snake or a carry, a inactive nigger cannot be skinned for earnings and had not been worth his inactive weight in platinum. (Morrison op cit p148)
Under slavery, Sethe's sense of motherhood is rejected and distorted, as she explains to Paul D
I was big, Paul D, and profound and wide so when I stretched out my forearms all my children could get in between. Appeared as if I adored them more after I got here. Or possibly I couldn't love them proper in Kentucky because they wasn't mine to love. (Morrison op cit p162)
Sethe's murder of Much loved is not without criticism in the novel. Paul D famously tells Sethe - "what you performed was incorrect, Sethe. . . . you got two legs, seethe, not four. " (Morrison op cit p164) Quite simply you are individual (two feet) but you have acted like an creature with four legs. But, as a whole, the novel shows why Sethe is becoming so brutalized by racism that the murder of Beloved was an act of setting up her toddler daughter free. Denver, Sethe's youngest child, perceives this obviously towards the end of the book and is aware of her mother's actions:
. . . anybody white could take your whole self for whatever came in your thoughts. Not just work, destroy, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty yourself so very bad you couldn't like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you couldn't think who you were and couldn't think it up. . . . The best thing she was, was her children. (Morrison op cit p251)
And so the murder of Favorite is a reaction to racism and the system of slavery; it is the only way that Sethe has to ensure Beloved's liberty. Slavery destroys every family that Sethe has: at Lovely Home she actually is violated by schoolteacher's sons - "And they took my milk! And they had taken my milk!" (Morrison op cit p17), milk which should have nourished Beloved; and schoolteacher's try to bring the family back causes the murder of Beloved. As Beaulieu puts it:
In 'Dearest', Morrison presents the discussion that the greatest horror and tragedy of slavery is just how it separates and destroys people. (Beaulieu op cit p117)
In Richard Wright's Native Son, by contrast, Bigger's family is shown by Wright as rather peripheral. Nonetheless it is implied throughout the text that the family's is dysfunctional. Bigger admits (of his daddy) that 'He received wiped out in a riot after i was a kid - in the South. ' (Wright (1940) p106) - which can hint that he was lynched. Bigger is currently at age twenty his family's only potential breadwinner and in the opening chapter it is his mother's fear that they can be studied off relief and therefore have nothing to eat that causes Bigger to consider the job at the Daltons - but he does so angrily and bitterly, because in a racist culture he does not have any choice. In literary terms (and conveniently disregarding the dates of publication!), Bigger is the descendant of Sixo in Dearest, finding through assault and hatred of whites his only redemption, or like Howard and Buglar, Sethe's sons, who just set off because the responsibility of days gone by and the sense of responsibility is so great. This notion is much less fanciful as it seems: in Wright's essay 'How Bigger Was Born' (which is currently usually used as an introduction to editions of the novel) Wright reaches pains to point out that Bigger Thomas is a type of negro whose only response to white racism is violence and who usually ends up dead or in jail. This resorting to assault, however, is completely due to the inequalities of racism, the denial of monetary freedom to dark-colored men and the barbarity of both the Jim Crow laws of the south and the economical segregation and exploitation in the northern states of the united states. Even before Bigger's re-education by his lawyer Max in Book Three, Bigger knows the constraints enforced on him by capitalism - that have changed the physical shackles of slavery. Early in the book when he considers a poster which proclaims 'IF YOU Rest THE LAW, YOU CAN'T Get', he he mumbles to himself, "You crook. . . . You let whoever will pay you off gain!' (Wright op cit p43) And in a talk with Gus, Bigger reveals his understanding of his own oppression:
"They don't really why don't we do nothing. '
"The white people!" (Wright op cit p49)
A few webpages later Gus and Bigger agree of white people "They acquired everything. They own the world. " (Wright op cit p52)
And it is this sense of economical alienation that eventually leads Bigger to commit murder.
His eventual execution is foretold in the book. His mother says to him 1. . . the gallows reaches the end of the street you travelling, son, " (Wright op cit p39) and Bigger himself involves feel that his violence towards Mary Dalton and towards Bessie are inescapable steps to the electric chair which the financial conditions of racist America have pre-ordained for him. Later in the book he says to his lawyer Max
. . . what I got to value? I recognized that sometime or another they would get me for something. I'm dark-colored. I need not do nothing at all for 'em to get me. The first white finger they point at me, I'm a goner, see?(Wright op cit p381)
Bigger and his marriage along with his family is not evaluated in any great depth by Wright, although opening field when the rat is wiped out functions as metaphor for what will happen to Bigger and also unveils the squalid conditions that they are forced to reside in at over-priced rents by white landlords - four people in an area, infested with rats and without likelihood of moving to a nicer neighbourhood. But Wright gives us psychological perception into Bigger which reveals that he has a feeling of responsibility to family, but it has been warped to hatred due to brutalities of surviving in a racist world:
He hated his family because he realized they were hurting and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness the way they lived, the shame and misery with their lives, he would be swept out of himself with dread and despair. . . . he realized that as soon as he allowed what his life meant to enter totally into his awareness, he would either destroy himself or another person. So he refused himself and acted tough. (Wright op cit p40)
Not only is this another foretelling of Bigger's inescapable fate, it also shows his knowing of the appalling life his family lead and his insufficient capacity to do anything about it. Late in Reserve Three he tells his family to forget him when they visit him in prison and not to go to again. (Wright op cit p442)
How are we to account for the very different emphases put on the family by these two authors? One might claim that the contexts of development are crucial in this admiration.
Wright's Native Son was shared in 1940 and, although his display of the effects of racism is merely as brutalizing as Morrison's, and family life has been disrupted Bigger Thomas's real family are peripheral to the action, as we have seen. It's important to consider contextual factors here. Wright was writing during a amount of exodus of blacks from the southern state governments to the northern industrialized ones where they found better pay but a far more delicate racism which still stored them strongly in their oppressed economical position. Furthermore, the fantastic Despair and even events in European countries (the climb of Hitler and his ideological contrary - the Communism of the Soviet Union) acquired seen the polarization of politics of the right and the departed. This was a world-wide happening and afflicted thinkers, writers and artists all over the world. At the time of publication, Wright was an associate of the American Communist Get together and, to a far greater extent than Dearest, Native Son is a polemical book designed to mirror current Marxist ideology. This clarifies the positive presentation of heroes such as Mary Dalton, Jan and Max, but it also has outcomes for the presentation of family. In Marxist doctrine the family device is irrelevant to the problem of public change which can only just come about by the joint work of the proletariat - in an American context, both dark-colored and white members of the working school working alongside one another to over put the capitalist system. Therefore, while Bigger Thomas's family has experienced the consequences of racism and the legacy of slavery, Wright places less emphasis on family, because it is not part of his solution. In Reserve Three Max serves as a mouthpiece for orthodox Communist thought and often tries to convince Bigger of the shared injustices of the working school, dark-colored or white:
Morrison, by contrast, is writing in the 1980s after the surge of feminism and the increasing empowerment of most women and especially the empowerment of dark-colored women, given the successes of the Civil Rights motion of the 1960s. Thus her solution takes a different form from Wright's.
However, exactly what does unite both text messages is their fictive rejection of the traditional nuclear family (ruined as it's been by slavery, the legacy of slavery and racism) and their embracing of an wider, bigger sense of what we may call family: the white and black working class united as an oppressed proletariat in Wright's vision; and a lot more inclusive community mothering shown in the penultimate section of Beloved - which re-defines family and kinship as essentially matriarchal and recognising the kinship of all blacks towards each other. For Wright and Morrison these alternatives will vary ways forward, nevertheless they both present an essentially if only tentatively optimistic perspective of a possible way forwards for the black family, so alienated and traumatized by the slavery and racism of the USA.