In search of Identity
Most of African-American literature appears in the American canon as a literature of revolution and protest against a "white" world of supremacy. Yet many African-American authors have explored, analyzed and criticized "white" supremacy while, at the same time, exploring its affect on African-American life and individuals. In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the main character Pecola becomes a victim of world that enforces definitions of beauty which exclude Pecola and all other "black" individuals for that matter. Also, Morrison beautifully explores the influence of a "white" world on other "black" characters and how those individuals deal or not deal with their personal struggle of "identity" as well as with each other.
As a starting point we should consider James Baldwin's claim that "definition is death." In brief, Baldwin's personal struggles with the question of "identity" lead him to argue that when a social definition is constructed it soon becomes an "identity" of its subject and it is an "identity" that cannot be easily, if at all possible, discarded or avoided. Here, it is important to think about the difference between the words "description" and "definition." Many people often find it hard to avoid the word "black" when referring to African-American or Afro-Latino-American individuals because they say that the word "black" helps to describe the specific individual. On the other hand, a close look in the history of the United States will reveal the fact that the words "black" and "white" are ideologies constructed and continued by social perceptions and not a mere color description. This leads us to argue that "black" and "white" are therefore definitions and not descriptions. When examining the American canon we will see as a reflection and testimony of social perception that being "black" has always meant for many to be unintelligent, wild, troublesome, lacking complexity, subservient and unimportant among other problematic...
Baldwin, James. . Collected Essays. New York: The Library of America, 1998.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994.
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