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Existentialism Essay, Research Paper

Literature is sometimes written around important times in history. Klaus Mann, Richard Wright, and Toni Morrison all write novels around historic times. Mann wrote Mephisto, which dealt with the Nazi regime. Wright wrote about America in the 1930 s, in regards to the desperate state of Black Americans. And Morrison wrote her novel on the traumatic time after slavery, reconstruction. All three novels express to us the feelings of the time.

Some people just can not imagine how the National Socialist Party was able to take over on the miserable and offensive platform it stood on. Furthermore, how they were to be gain power in Germany with such cruel and oppressive practices and how managed to keep it. Klaus Mann s Mephisto answered a number of these questions for me. It did portray in a frighteningly matter-of-fact manner the social and cultural climate of that crucial time period, the dying years of the Weimar Republic and the early years of the Third Reich. The novel assured that the whole of Germany had not welcomed the Nazi takeover with open arms, no enjoyed the years spent living under the Reich. Was it possible? (156) Mann s character Hendrik wondered upon receiving the news of Hitler s appointment as chancellor.

The blustering lout whom his brilliant and progressive friends had so often ridiculed had now suddenly become the most powerful man in the country! This is horrible, thought the actor Hendrik Hofgen. A hideous surprise. And I was absolutely positive that these Nazis were not to be taken seriously. What a fiasco! (156).

Though Hendrik shows a somewhat na ve faith in human nature or at any rate in the ability of Weimar government officials to resist Hitler s charismatic nature, it is somewhat comforting that these were the thoughts running through the minds of the Germans in 1933. They were not thinking, our savior has come. Mephisto presents a dark sketch of a socially and culturally impoverished nation.

In Richard Wright s novel, Native Son, stirred up real controversy by shocking the sensibilities of both black and white America. The protagonist, Bigger Thomas, hails from the lowest rung of society, and Wright does not infuse him with any of the romantic elements in common to literary heroes. In effect, Bigger is what one might expect him to be, given the social conditions in which he lives, sullen, frightened, violent, hateful, and resentful. Wright wrote Native Son to draw attention to what he thought was a serious problem in American society. He had witnessed a peculiar social phenomenon, there was a distinct pattern of Biggers in the United States. Wright realized that this did not apply to black men only, that many men, when confronted with an impossibly narrow avenue to a human life, become, like Bigger, disasters waiting to happen. Wright believed that the structure of American society itself was the direct cause. Native Son is an urgent warning that the American social structure must change before the needy, oppressed and restricted masses rise up in fury against those in power.

Slavery was a traumatic time in the lives of three to four million blacks in the United States, who had to endure this experience for over two hundred years in America. But the immediate years after slavery, reconstruction could be seen as even more difficult time period, as blacks had to do for themselves, without a road map, instructions or patronage from there former slave masters. They may have had their freedom, but were they really free? Sethe has found freedom, but she is still chained by the past. The better life she believed she and Denver were living was simply not that other one. Freedom by itself seems rather devoid of meaning. Was Baby Suggs truly free, when white men allowed to barge into her yard at any time? Was Paul D free, though allowed to love whatever he wanted to love? Although Denver was techinically free, she does not feel that way. She finds her most alive and free when enclosed by bushes, shielded from the hurt of the hurt world. Were any of the blacks truly free, who had to wait at the back of the supermarket for whites to be served before they could get their groceries? Freedom, Morrison points out, is more than a matter of not belonging to a single master. Sethe in order to save her own daughter from the horrific institution of slavery, kills her. If a mother has to murder her own daughter, the conditions must have been so bad. This novel effectively conveys the brutality and dehumanization that occurred under slavery, putting Sethe s act in context without necessarily condemning or it excusing it.

All three novels, Mephisto, Native Son, and Beloved, all express what was going on at their historical time period. Mephisto is the work of a German and one with a good cause to be bitter towards his subject matter. But it is nevertheless a true and contemporary portrait of the horrors of the Nazi regime. It is the author s personal experience which gives the novel its strength and his anger which gives it its fire. Native Son is a call to the nation urging recognition of the desperate plight of Black America. Wright poignantly tells the story of the immoral Bigger Thomas, but is able to draw sympathy for what many White Americans see as the typical black miscreant by clearly defining his common human emotions. Bigger s desperation to protect his own life in spite of the obstacles around him make him a brilliant representative for Blacks in America. While slavery was a physical experience, one of the major damages regarding slavery dealt was the psychological and mental slavery. Beloved captures this experience.

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