Racism in Short Stories

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Racism in Short Stories
by john
This is an essay i wrote for English Literature. My examples are from two short stories ‘The Test', and ‘After You My Dear Alphonse'. A Race is a population of humans distinguished from other humans. The most noticeable way to distinguish between races is by skin colour. In a white patriarchal society, like ours, race is used as a point of difference and discrimination to create power differences. ‘The Test' and ‘After You My Dear Alphonse' both challenge the legitimacy of this differentiation and thus the discrimination associated with it. ‘The Test' by Angelica Gibbs, was written in the 1940s and bluntly shows how African-American people were treated at this time, and would have caused much controversy among the ignorant middle class reading the story. ‘After You My Dear Alphonse' (‘Alphonse'), by Shirley Jackson, was written in the same era as ‘The Test'. This story shows how naturalised the stereotypes of African-Americans were then, and also how racial attitudes were influenced by parents and society. Both of these stories challenge the representation of the African-Americans in America at the time.

These stories were written in the 1940s. At this time there had been no action for the rights of the marginalised Negro society in America, and the naturalised stereotypes revolved around particular engrained views of ‘Blacks'. Particularly in ‘Alphonse', we can see this point where Mrs Wilson cannot seem to accept that Boyd and his family are socio-economically equal to her white family. One example is where Mrs Wilson is offering Boyd Johnny's old clothes. He is surprised and declines, saying that his family usually just buy what they need. This is an attempt by Mrs Wilson to make her family "charitable" and thus appear better than the Negro family. At this point she still cannot comprehend that Boyd's family have enough money to sustain an equal lifestyle to her own, and that they are equals. The stereotypes mentioned above are also seen in ‘The Test'. When Marian and "The Inspector" are driving up to the bridge Marian tells him she has a college degree. This surprises the inspector and he laughs it off. Usually at this point there would be a shift of power but being a white man he is still in control. From both of stories the representation of race with respect to the naturalised stereotypes is that they are completely unsubstantiated, although the white people still attempt to apply these stereotypes to the marginalised Negros.

The way the white people apply the racism and stereotypes is different in each story. In ‘The Test' the Inspector is the most noticeably racist, where he puts a Southern American spin on all his speech, the innuendo being that Negro's primarily originate from the Southern states where they were once slaves. This is the main point of his racist remarks such as referring to Marian as "Mandy-Lou". The main reason he is incredibly racist towards her, apart from that most whites were in the 1940s, is because he has the power in the situation. This is symbolised by his actions getting out of his car, and by his military-like uniform. Also Mrs Ericson is passively racist in ‘The Test'. She states "If I could only pay you half of what you're worth", implying that she conforms to the stereotypical "going rates" for Negros. As well as this she is unable to accept that the inspector and others are racist towards Marian, perhaps because she is from the middle class, and so doesn't witness much of the blunt racism. However she does notice that the Inspector is incredibly rude to Marian, but being a woman in the 1940s she can do nothing about it. In ‘Alphonse' Mrs Wilson's racism is different to the inspector of ‘The Test' in that she is not derogatory, but clearly believes she is better than the Negros. She attempts to apply every stereotype which has been naturalised by her society to Boyd and his family, despite Boyd proving that his family don't conform to...
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