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American Criticism

Nineteen-Fifty-Five by Alice Walker and On the Road by Langston Hughes both use a wide variety of implicit and explicit criticisms of American society within their short stories. Both essays focus on White culture vs. Black individuality. This focus opens the door to implicit criticisms such as racism, hypocrisy and discrimination. These examples are especially prevalent in the story On the Road. Hughes gives an image that focuses on looks and money, instead of feeling and good spirit. There are a few explicit examples, like the fact that people should assume White culture to be the important people over Black culture. This seems to be quite typical in the story Nineteen-Fifty-Five, which gives its focus on surface and traditional law. It gives no thought to the fact that Black culture really is not very different from white culture, besides the physical colour. There is another factor involved with this widespread topic,

which is social expectations. In both stories, it is an obvious expectation that the white race should dominate the world society and have nothing to do with black culture. Generally speaking, racial criticism in American society has progressed in many ways.

In Langston Hughes’ story On the Road, there are quite a few examples of explicit criticism. This will be illustrated with a series of quotes, along with a brief explanation of the meaning or reason for stating that quote. On page 471 in the “Introduction to Literature” book (this book contains the short stories), Sargeant, who is the protagonist of the story, says, “I know it’s a white folks” church, but I got to sleep somewhere”. Sargeant spoke this line after some white people yelled at him for trying to get into “their” church for a place to sleep. It is discrimination pushed to a maximum when these white people would not even let a harmless black fellow use there church just to sleep in for the evening. It is not like he would cause any damage or ruckus. On page 473 the officer in the prison which Sargeant was taken to hits Sargeant hard on the knuckles and says, “Shut up, you crazy coon.” “Coon” was the word that was used to describe people who were black. It was very racist, and is still heard in present day from time to time, considering that this story comes from before the 60’s. At the beginning of the story there is a very good example of hypocrisy within the church. Reverend Dorset does not allow Sargeant to enter his house. At this point of the story, Sargeant is very cold (it was snowing) and hungry. Even under these conditions, the REVEREND does not allow Sargeant to have shelter, because he is black. You would think that someone of Reverend Dorset’s rank would have a heart that shows sympathy toward anything exposed to such horrid conditions. The signs of Racism, Discrimination, and Hypocrisy of this type, have greatly diminished over the last century, but are still evident in our society.

In Nineteen Fifty-five, the White culture holds a focus that is based on surface, look, and money. The story has a theme of popular culture vs. Gracie Mae (The main character of the story who is black). Throughout this story, there is a lot of evidence that shows white culture as following what is traditionally lawful, which is not necessarily the good or correct way to go about life. Following this type of lifestyle leads to development of a hollow culture, as well as a self-destructive culture. An explicit factor in this story is that White culture and Black culture have both fallen into the assumption that White culture has the authority and importance over the Black Culture. For example, in the beginning of the story an agent comes and buys Gracie Mae’s song that was quite a hit. Soon after that, it was a hit by a man named Traynor. He redid the song because the agent did not want to make a black person famous for their talent. Eventually Traynor wants to pay his respects for Gracie by getting her a spot on the Johnny Carson show. No one really liked it because Traynor, the WHITE guy, did not sing it. People had fallen into the tradition of liking only the people of the White race, even though there are many far more talented black people.

Social expectations are a large factor in both the stories that we have looked at. The expectation in the time that these stories were written, was that white race should completely dominate over the black race. The black race could only be thought of as something wrong or not useful in life. Although those were the expectations at that time, the story On the Road seems to give clues which say that someday this white cultured world will not have such a big problem with other races. On page 471 there is a scene when the Church falls down and crushes all of the people who were stopping Sargeant from getting shelter in the Church. Christ then falls of the crucifix and takes a walk with Sargeant. This is almost a foreshadow of our lives today, except for the fact that Christ could not possibly come off of a cement statue of the crucifix, and just stroll around town.

Through examples of implicit and explicit American criticism and a brief explanation of the social expectations in the earlier half of this century, you have been given an understanding that criticism has not only progressed, but still shows its signs of presence today. From On the Roads hypocrisy in the church and discrimination toward Sargeant and his people, to Nineteen Fifty-Fives racism and discrimination of the wonderfully talented but un-noticed Gracie Mae Still, they both show their negativity to a maximum. Many of these problems show up in history, and in present day. You just have to look closely

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