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Novels

There still remains a flickering hope for a better tomorrow

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By scrutinizing the examples of Frederick Douglas and Matthew in W.E.B Dubois’ The dark princess, the reader sees that on the verge of the 20th century, there existed a dire need for escape for a vast majority of the black population. Although at first it seems 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.

Matthew—a student of Manhattan University—is solely discriminated against based on his skin color. The color black 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, Matthew becomes a victim of similar racial discrimination even in Europe, but despite this, Matthew does not intend to return to the United States. The reason for this becomes glaringly obvious when, on page 7, he describes his relationship with America as one that is characterized by numerous alienating instances.

On the other hand, it is apparent that Douglas flees the United States to find his “home” in the United Kingdom. On page 296, Douglas exclaims, “I’ve spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country”. This notion is further substantiated by the fact that he ascribes utmost value to not only the physical presence of a “home”, but also to the characteristics of a “home” such as racial acceptance and tolerance that he highly values. In Europe, Douglas is not evaluated based on the erroneous perceptions of others; instead, his preeminence is valued based on his “…moral and intellectual worth” (289).

These examples show that their purpose of embarking on this odyssey is uniform: to escape the quarantine of racial and social discrimination. The idea of travel therefore symbolizes a flickering hope for a better tomorrow, and this idea in literature later turns out to be a forerunner for the anti-racist movements that sprout in other areas of the world, too.

Talal Almas
Rice University

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Novels

The vacillating presentation of feminism through time and space

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While reading the novels Daisy Miller and Soldiers of the fortune, the reader submerges in a reverie that is the distinctive way in which the respective writers present two of the female characters—Daisy and Hope—throughout the discourse.

In Daisy Miller, the protagonist Daisy is presented as someone who lives up to her name; like a delicate, soft and gentle daisy flower, she grows through the novel only to face her own demise. As the reader discerns, James, by presenting Daisy as a relatively weak character, elucidates a view of feminism that is symbolised by a woman who succumbs to the harsh treatment she faces by her hostile society; a woman that cannot stand up for her own rights. In presenting Daisy under this said light, James shows the reader that the novella is set during a time when the old woman was transitioning into the new woman, keenly and eagerly gaining power and dominance that were previously regarded as too ‘manly’. In fact, the reader also sees that Mr. Winterbourne remarks, “she was too light and childish, too uncultivated and unreasoning, too provincial, to have reflected upon her ostracism or even to have perceived it” (25). This shows us that James is portraying a view of the feministic gender identity as an entity that takes an enervated stead in the novella, and acts as a brittle form of a sponge that absorbs the rebuttal she faces at the hands of her society in Europe.

Although the aforementioned view of gender, as presented throughout Daisy Miller is worth keeping in mind as we progress, it is simultaneously imperative to see how this is in stark contrast with the role Hope plays in Soldiers of the fortune. Even though we see that Hope is the second girl (after Alice) in Clay’s life in the foreign land of Olancho, the role she plays is quite in contrast with the ones that Alice and Daisy play. While Daisy is presented as a woman who lingers at the intersection of the values honed by the old and new woman, Hope marks directly the completed transition from the old woman to the new woman. In the novel, we are told that she “..gets her clothes dirty..” (47).

This serves to delineate the fact that she adopts a lot of norms and cultures that would, in Daisy’s time and by her society, be considered unconventional. Furthermore, the reader sees that Hope has quite the dominance over Clay; she is the first woman that foments Clay to think and eventually act upon trying to establish a family and to settle down. This shows us that the author, in this play and through the use of Hope, presents a gender identity associated with feminism that is much more controlling, dominant and in power.

We can therefore see that, by creating this contrast between the gender identity of feminism pertaining to the old and new woman, the authors create a transition from an orthodox point of view and perceptions of women in society to an unorthodox, yet newly-burgeoning approach of women as practical ‘equals’ to men, per se.


Talal Almas
Rice University

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