Racism & Literature: Examining literature for answers

How The Idea Of International Travel In Literature Became A Forerunner For Anti-Racist Movements

As the reader transitions into the ubiquitous theme of The Humanitarian in various English literature pieces, the reader cannot help but notice how the archetypes presented by the examples of Frederick Douglas and Matthew in W.E.B Dubois’ The Dark Princess vehemently espouse the notion that on the verge of the 20th century, there existed a dire need for escape for the vast majority of the black population. This escape took many forms; while Douglas travelled to the United Kingdom in search of a welcoming hiatus from his otherwise estranging and discriminative society in the United States, Matthew sojourned in the welcoming European lands because he was disgusted at the reaction of the Dean who hindered Mathew’s matriculation to medical school.

Although at first it seems to the reader as if both Matthew and Douglas leave United States for very different personal reasons, it soon becomes clear that the central theme underpinning these reasons is constant: an odyssey to avoid the prejudiced white community inhabiting the United States. As the reader progresses throughout these novels, vicariously living through the experiences delineated by the respective authors, it becomes more obvious that Matthew — a student of Manhattan University — is solely discriminated against based on his skin color. The color black, as it seems, symbolizes a form of curse or anathema for the white American community, and this is especially evident when Matthew is barred from completing his required Obstetrics courses at his university. However, as fate has it, Matthew becomes a victim of similar racial discrimination even in Europe, but despite a plethora of such instances, Matthew does not intend to return to the United States. The reason for this becomes glaringly obvious when he describes his relationship with America as one that is characterized with numerous acerbic white-black interactions. These further give Matthew a vantage to look for his respite within the confines of Europe.

On the other hand, it is apparent that Douglas flees the United States to find his “home” in the United Kingdom. Douglas exclaims, “I’ve spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country.” This notion of his is further substantiated by the fact that he ascribes utmost value to not only the physical presence of a “home”, but to the characteristics of a “home” such as racial acceptance and tolerance that he holds at a very high pedestal. In Europe, Douglas is not evaluated based on the erroneous perceptions of others; instead, his preeminence is well regarded based on his “moral and intellectual worth.”

Thus, although Matthew and Douglas travel to Europe for varied personal reasons, as it latently seems, their central purpose of embarking on this odyssey is to escape the quarantine of racial and social discrimination and prejudice that plagues the American society of their respective eras. In this context, the idea of travel evokes the coming together of the severed yet quintessential hope of a better tomorrow for both Matthew and Douglas, and this idea of international travel in literature later turns out to be a fore-runner for the anti-racist movements that sprout in other areas of the world, too.

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Talal Almas

Talal is a World-Record holder for scoring the most number of A*s at the British GCSEs/O levels. He is also the first Pakistani to have been crowned at the British House of Lords for his meritorious achievements. Currently a medical student, Talal later plans on becoming a Cardio-thoracic surgeon.

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