The two decades of 1940-1960 shaped the growth of African American historical literature writing. During this period, a group of exceptional writers emerged who were very talented. It was due to their works that this period was considered crucial in the development of the African American writing. Some of the writers with exceptional jobs include James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Tolson, Margret Walker, Dorothy West and Richard Wright (Gates 93). The works of these writers were not only critically acclaimed but also they were also commercially successful. These writers were exceptional because their jobs were engaged in the debate over what the African American was undergoing and sought to confront the growing mess which included racism, imperialism, and colonialism. In these texts, I will focus on “Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin and “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow” by Richard Wright (Gates 97-107)
Realism is defined as the act or practices of accepting the condition of things or events as they are and be ready to deal with these acts or practices accordingly and appropriately. The realism logic became popular in the 20th century mainly in the 1940s -1960 whereby African American writers used the realism logic in creating literature which then was socially acceptable (Baron & Engel 15 -21). These can be referred to as literary realism and is mostly associated with the works of Richard Wright in his Novel “Native Son” published in 1940 and Growing Up black: The experiences of Jim Crow. Realism portrays life realistically and the situation of the lives of the people as it is and how they are living.
At the same time, the logic of Naturalism refers to the harsher treatment of reality that is view life frankly. Naturalism somehow proceeds from realism whereby it as a form of exaggerated realism. Naturalism shows humans as the product of their surroundings; it argues that humans are shaped by heredity, social conditions, and nature which is beyond the control of man. Naturalism, thus, sees the state that humans are as helpless whereby humans cannot escape the reality or the situation therein. Nationalism was first used by Emile Zola who defines it as a literary moment that focuses on observation and scientific method in fiction writing or fictional manifestation of reality (Harold n.p)
James Baldwin is an African American writer popular for his work that addressed issues that affected African Americans. He was born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. Baldwin is considered one of the greatest writer in the20th century (Gates 94). Because his works especially those in 1940-1960 had a huge impact on society. His works mainly talk of the African Americans experiences in America. Going to meet the man one of his works was published in 1965, it is a composition of short stories and covers the topic of anti-Black racism in American society among other issues in African American community such as criminal justice African American Jews, sexuality, drug addiction etcetera. In 1948 he moved to Paris where he continued his writing claiming that once migrate to the other side of the ocean, was able to see where he came from. Other works of James Baldwin is, Go telling the Mountain, Published in 1953 which was an autobiography that on a man who grew up in Harlem coping father issues and his religion.
Richard Wright born in Mississippi in Roxie on September 4, 1908, was both a writer and a poet. His passion for writing starting when he is a young man in fact, by the age of 16, he had already his first short story published in local paper. Some of the well-known works include his “Native Son” and Growing up Black: The “Ethics of Living Jim Crow.”
Analysis of the “Going to Meet the Man”
In Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin tries to bring the reality of what was happening in the Southern town, the main character Jesse, a local sheriff who portrays the reality of criminal injustice, police brutality. The sheriff is paranoid about what is happening on that day at work Jesse had to lock up a black man who is believed to be the leader of the group that was protesting outside the court. Jesse recalls what happens on that day whereby he talks of beat up the man senseless until the man was unconscious. This incident reminded him of a when he was eight whereby a black man who was of being disrespectful had to be lynched (Baldwin n.p)
Regarding the logic of realism and Naturalism on can argue that the book portrays the Black- white’s antagonism. The reality is, a lot is changing the African Americans are protesting for the right to vote; these are threatening to turn the old South which is unwelcomed by people like Jesse who represents the Whites as well the police. Jesse cannot accept what is happening because he believes that the situation should remain as it is. Naturally, things are supposed to stay as they are and Jesse is doing all he can to stop the change from happening.
The book portrays both the literary logic of realism and Naturalism. Regarding Realism, the reality is there is a lot of racism, police brutality and conflict between the Whites and the Blacks. The blacks are oppressed by the Whites, and the judicial system is, and the police are oppressive to the Blacks. Regarding Naturalism, the Whites see the status quo as the natural way of life and are against any change.
Analysis of the “Ethics of Living Jim Crow”
In “Ethics of Living Jim Crow,” Richard Wright is explaining the ways in which social processes and actions are determined by external factors. The outcome of these determinants then affect how people react and respond to the pressure affecting them. The text also illustrates Richard Wright’s reality growing is what makes him learn to adapt to the life according to the “Ethics of Jim Crow.” The text shows the experience of a black boy living in the South with a dominant White population and is forced to adapt to live with prejudice and discrimination.
Majority of blacks accept their inferiority status in the society, although, they feel frustrated with that position, with some showing some passive defiance. The dominance of Whites creates a social environment that forces the blacks to act in a certain way towards the whites. The white dominance is shown by Wright when he walks us through the time when he was applying for the job, showing submissiveness by using terms like “sir” to indicate that he was polite and submissive (William & Taylor 63-80). White demand respect from the blacks which was given most times while those who refused to demonstrate compliance were punished. This show the concept of realism and Naturalism whereby the reality of oppression and racism is seen as the natural way of life by the whites and blacks have to accept their inferior status reluctantly.
In conclusion, the literary logic of realism and naturalism change how writers would convey their messages through literature; they had to shift from the focus on romance and fantasy to reality. The two literary styles try to depict the situation of things as they exist and to enlighten the people on what is perceived to be real and what is real. The significance of literature from the works of Richard Wright and James Baldwin teaches as the writing is not meant to educate and open our eyes. Writing separates reality and fiction using both truth and fiction to pass the message to the audience of the writer.
- Baron, Christine; Manfred Engel: Realism/Anti-Realism in 20th-CenturyLiterature. NL: Rodopi, 2010
- Gates Jr, Henry Louis, Valerie A. Smith, and Kimberly W. Benston. “The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature.” (2014).
- Harold Bloom. Richard Wright’s Native Son. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996.
- James Baldwin, 1924-1987. Going To Meet the Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
- William L. Andrews, Douglas Taylor. Richard Wright’s Black Boy (American Hunger): a Casebook. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.