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Short Story Analysis: The Necessary Knocking On The Door By Ann Petry Essay, Research Paper

Ann Petry was born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. She is white and was living in a neighbourhood where the majority of the people were black. Anyhow, Ann Petry when through her childhood without any prejudices against racial difference. It was only later that she encountered racism. Then, she studied and became a pharmacist but in 1938, she decided to move in Harlem with her husband and to write. She began by writing short stories and poems that exposed the treat of racism. The Necessary Knocking on the Door was one of them. Particularly, Ann Petry denounced this scourge of society by using setting, characterisation and conflict.

First of all, the setting adds depth to the theme of racism. Right in the introduction, the author carries the reader in a dark and mysterious environment. An unusual emphasis is made on the moon light and the building’s walls. These elements of the setting convey all this fear and repudiation towards racism. The “pale, cold light making grotesque patterns on the floors, walls and ceiling” gives an idea of the felling of insecurity that the main character is suffering from. In addition, the stillness and old age of the place makes the reader realise that things are not going to change. The author is making it more obvious when she says that the wood is “protesting against age”. Then, Ann Petry carries her character Alice Knight in the long corridor. Mrs. Petry uses a very important word in that part of the story: “The moon light is superimposing the walls”. Roughly, it means that the white light is on the dark walls. Ultimately, the use of such word could be interpreted as the superiority of the whites over the blacks, an important idea of racism. The little panel on Mrs Taylor’s door is also imposing the difference between white and black. Instead of writing simply that there was a card, the author describes it as a small white card with a sharp black inscription on it. The setting of the conference itself is an influence on the perception of racism by Alice Knight. At first, she thought see was taking a break from the insults of the city and could live as a normal human being. Unfortunately, the white people did not change even at the Rest House.

Secondly, the characters are influenced by racism. To begin, the understanding that both Alice and Gib are racist is essential. Although, both suffer in a different way from this problem. Mrs. Taylor has always lived with racist manners. She is old and the acceptance of the black people is incomprehensible. In addition, the majority of the people at the conference were white and could not punish her for such a saying towards Miss Knight. At the end, Mrs. Taylor’s racist attitude kills her. In another sense, Alice Knight is killed too. However, she dies gradually as life advances. In fact, the conference is Alice Knight’s hope to live some days as an accepted human being (”oasis in the desert”). Nonetheless, her dream shatters into pieces when Gib Taylor shouts the word “nigger”. Then, she returns to her inanimate state. A state which is governed by fear, insecurity and hatred. Such attitudes are observed at the dinner table after the intervention of Mrs Taylor. First, Alice is breathless because she could not believe the cruelty of the old white-haired white woman. She was embarrassed and hateful towards this white person. Although, she could not express herself in front of all the other white people. This explains her immobility and insecurity. “For at that moment she saw everything multiplied”. The main character was right to suspect all the other white people in the room. They all choose to approve Gib Taylor with a long and questioning silence. Petry makes each reader feel that through a very powerful metaphor. The straw bridge over silence grasps the feeling of complicity by everyone in at the conference. A character like Alice Knight is one that represses its feelings and ideas to express them later in a form of cruelty against the whites. Alice Knight repressed in the dinning room and expressed when Mrs Taylor was suffering. All the anger she had stood into her mind and came back that night. Alice Knight made Gib Taylor pay with her life.

At last, racism shaped the conflict of the story to expect the climax. As defined, the conflict is the problem or predicament that the main character faces. Assuming it is a personal one, it occurs when a character is uncertain or insecure and suffers mentally or spiritually. Without any doubts, racism is the conflict because it made Alice Knight uncertain and insecure and she suffered mentally and spiritually from it. It was to a point that she refused to save a human being that was going to die. Even if it is a crime, she had reasons to commit this inhuman gesture. Revenge was certainly the main one. The main character had to express her anger towards Gid Taylor and all the other white people at the conference. They screwed her week-end away from the insults of the city. Then, fear came to be a great issue for Alice Knight. She feared to be called a nigger or to be considered a thief. She could manage to be called a nigger one more time but being a thief made her walk away from the door. If only Alice Knight would have ignored Mrs Taylor saying: “You can never tell what they are liable to do”. In despair, she reached for help. Although, there could be none: everyone was white, like Gib Taylor. These examples are all products of racism that led Alice to return to her room and fall asleep without remorse.

In conclusion, racism was omnipresent throughout three elements of the story. The setting enhanced racism, the characters where led by racist attitude and the conflict is racism. When Ann Petry wrote her fist novel, it sold over 1,5 million copies, showing the interest the Americans had for the theme of racism. The critics said that it was shocking, deep and leading to question society. Ann Petry had simply written about the normal life of a mother in Harlem. Finally, racism is still a treat today but it is less important than it was fifty years ago. Ann Petry is one that contributed to make the people alive to this problem.


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