Is The New Men In Black Before The Old Ones Assimilation or Resistance: A Comparison of Two African American novels

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Assimilation or Resistance: A Comparison of Two African American novels

These two novels are different in terms of time frame, family relationship, and class. The female protagonists are both young, African-American, but their lives are completely opposite. Before reading these texts, the only African American literature I had read and studied had been slave narratives, such as Frederick Douglass and Celia, a slave. These texts showed me that even after emancipation, African Americans were still oppressed, first by segregation and then by poverty.

Baby of the Family it is a story of assimilation. Lena’s family, even though they live in a segregated society, are assimilating as much as possible into white culture. They are definitely middle class. Despite being forced to live in the Black part of town, which is the poorest part, Lena’s family has a very nice house and has many luxury items, such as two sewing machines, household appliances and a piano. They are working hard and trying to achieve the “Dream” of the dominant culture. Lena and her family have created their own world that exists separately from the white world. In the novel, white people are almost non-existent and there is little confrontation with racism. The style of the novel is very gentle; it practically puts the reader to sleep. One is given the impression that assimilation is good and that the message to African Americans is not to “buck the system.” The only example of resistance in baby comes from the slave Rachel, who tells of her suicide to escape oppression. Before that, Lena didn’t know much about the lives of slaves; this lack of knowledge shows her parents’ desire to let bygones be bygones.

The lost black girl it is a novel of resistance to the dominant culture. The literary style of this novel is very fast-paced, action-packed, and full of animal violence. This describes the world of the African American ghetto. The style also gives off a jungle feel, full of animal imagery (such as Chink being called a monkey or a tiger). The reader also sees people as predators, economically and sexually. Chink earns a living preying on other people’s addictions, and Sandra is preyed upon sexually by two black men. One also takes a picture of the jungle in Sandra’s relationship with her mother. Sandra must fight her mother to survive. An example of this is when Sandra gets some food from Sammy after working at his shop. Sandra was eating her food when her mother came home. She hurriedly ate the rest of the sandwiches, but the cake and pop were still there when her mother came into the kitchen. Her mother grabs the cake and eats it and then demands that Sandra give her the bottle of pop. Sandra runs around the table to stay away from her mother as she downs her sodas. This food fight between Sandra and her mother reminds the reader of how animals in the jungle fight over a new kill.

From reading these two texts together, the picture that emerges in African American literature is one of the various ways in which African Americans have been and are still oppressed. Lena is oppressed by segregation; Sandra from poverty. In both these novels, women are subservient to men. This is shown in Sandra’s rape and her respect for Chink and also in Nellie’s submission to her husband and his many affairs.

References

Ansa, Tina McElroy. Baby of the Family. Harcourt, 1991.

Goines, Donald. The lost black girl. Lushena Publications, 2006.

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