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Hoover Essay, Research Paper

The Folly of Oppression

Oppression is one of the most barbaric traits that humans posses. Taking advantage of a another human for some sort of gain is just plain selfish. Those who are oppressed often look weak, meek and helpless in hindsight. Yet one truth remains, throughout human history oppression has ultimately failed. That leaves the question of why. In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Toni Morison’s Beloved, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, groups are belittled in an effort to assert control. Oppressors justify oppression by dehumanizing the oppressed, yet the oppressed never fully become acceptant of their subordinate roles and eventually rebound to become fully functional human beings, if not more.

Edna Pontellier of Chopin’s The Awakening, is denied the chance to aquire her desires because society puts her in a cage, trapped and on display. Edna husband, Leonce complains to a friend that Edna is “making it devilishly uncomfortable for him” because “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women.” (Chopin 70). The way that Leonce tells his friend about his martial troubles, it is obvious that he does not take Edna’s opinion seriously. He says that Edna does not have the principle of equal rights in her head, but just the notion. Leonce is alluding that women to not have the minds or the necessary brainpower needed to comprehend principals. He hints that someone else must have implanted the idea into his wife’s head. Leonce, however is not the only thing that tyrannizes Edna, in fact the culture of the Creole hinders her more than her husband does. Edna grows extremely frustrated because she realizes that she ” [is] not a mother-woman [ ] It [is] almost to know [the "mother-women", fluttering about their wings extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imagined, threatened their precious brood" (Chopin 15). Even in the beginning of Kate Chopin's novel, Edna show signs of unrest. She questions her tradition role, and wish to step out side it with out violating social customs too much. The society that Edna lives in has its own system of checks and balances that prevents women from getting any credit when they speak out at something. This system in effect cages the women to her house and her immediate family. These bars of restriction are placed on her only after her marriage to Leonce. Edna abhors the agreement because the "marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in this respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees of Fate" (Chopin 19). The motive behind Edna and Leonce's marriage is not love. Because of this, the bars that confine Edna are even stronger and tighter and the suppression is felt is hotter. The feeling of alienation begins to seep in as Edna desires an end to the relationship she had hardly a hand in starting. Again though societal expectations confine Edna as she is forced to carry on as if their was nothing wrong in her life, even asking her husband if, "you [Leonce] is coming in” from the porch (Chopin 37). Edna does a good job masquerading her true feelings about the situation that she is stuck in. Yes, she does ask her husband to come in, but it is not an act of sincerity, more like an act of resonsibity. Edna is simply playing a role set for her by the customs of the day. She is forcibly suppressed by the customs. of the day. Edna soon realizes that she must break tradition to become truly free.

Edna breaks free of the model set by her by society sets out define herself. Edna, in perhaps one of the more sudden moves decides that she shall swim and she does, “swimming far out, where no woman had swum before” (Chopin 29). By swimming in the Bayou, Edna sends a powerful message to Creole society; Let me be, because I will do want I won’t and you cannot stop me. She changes her entire perception because she has done something she was forbidden to do. She overcomes adversity in one giant swoop and easily frees her self from the reins and chains of domestic servitude. After swimming she has little problem insulting and discarding Leonce, “taking off her wedding ring, flinging it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it” (Chopin 57). The breakage is complete, Edna as reject any ideas of her being less, or weaker than another human. She see that she does not need marriage to fulfill herself. She fully understands that it is what the ring stand for that makes her so unhappy. The wedding ring its self is suppose to mean commitment. This commitment means something to people who have entered it under their own free will, but to people who were forcible put into the situation the ring has no greater meaning than a whip or a chain means to an ex-slave. Edna attempts to destroy the ring in much the same way she attempts to destroy her marriage. She sees it as the controlling factor of her life, that coupled with her financial reliance on Leonce “without even waiting for an answer from her husband regarding his opinion or wishes on the matter ” (Chopin 90). To Edna Leonce means nothing, he is just another oppressor that would rather see her suffer than see her happy from her own decisions. By not asking her husbands permission she indicates that she wants severance and an end to their relationship. Once the bonds are broken, Edna has no problem freeing completely herself from the tyranny of Creolen Womanhood.

In Tony Morison’s Beloved, the white majority insists time after time that African Americans are inferior, justifying their position as slaves while the blacks spurn this notion, tossing the restrains of slavery aside. Throughout Beloved, the slave owners of the 18th century felt a need to reinforce the tale of African American’s being subhuman. In order to do that they employed tools such as the bit in order to reinforce the role of the slave in the society. Paul D recalls how, “it was like for him–about how offended the tongue is, held down by iron, how the need to spit is so deep you cry for it.” The sheer pain of the device created an artificial wildness “that shot up into the eye the moment the lips were yanked back. Days after it was taken out, goose fat was rubbed on the corners of the mouth but nothing to soothe the tongue or take the wildness out of the eye” (Morrison 71). The bit, a metal device, spawned from the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution is used to demoralize the African American slave. The experience is so foreign, so unnatural that the body has no choice but to convulse into a primitive state. A shroud of wildness is forced onto a man when the bit is in place and remains there, even after it is removed. In the minds of the slave owner, the bit forces the black man to submit, to accept his submissive role. Dispute treatment such as this, on nearly a daily basis, Paul D is able to retain his human spirit. His outgoingness and general love for life can be observed as, he says howdy to everybody within twenty feet. Making fun of the weather” and taking time “to smell the roses” (Morrison 47). Even after being treated much like an animal, Paul D is able to retain his human qualities. His outgoing spirit and his appreciation for his life after the slavery ordeal shows that he has overcome the misconceptions that were forcefully implanted in to his head while he was a slave. Freed from the bondage and tyranny of slavery, Paul D is able to blossom as a capable human being. Paul D’s close friend Sethe, also suffers through the agony of slavery as she is seen by the schoolteacher and his nephews as, “an animal what would revert” and “bite [a persons] hand clear off.” Schoolteacher goes on to lecture his nephews that, “you can not just mishandle creatures and expect success” (Morrison 150). In the eyes of the white majority Sethe is no more important to them than a milking cow. She is not human, she is simply a vessel for reproduction, and a tool in order to bring money in from the farm. In the eyes of the schoolteacher, she is not capable of making competent decision about her own survival and needs her owner in order to live and be content. The thought that Sethe is an actual person, much like the schoolteacher himself, never crosses his mind or the minds of his nephews. And since this is the belief that they held to their hearts, people like schoolteacher are able to justify their abuses against slaves. To them, whipping a slave for punishment was no different from slaughtering a cow for meat-a price necessary to be paid in order for money to come in. Sethe, a thinking human, hears everything and must reject and spur the false ideas of inferiority that bind her psychologically. Sethe shows no sign of weakness or inferiority when she intentionally tries to kill her children in an effort to, “collect every bit of life she had made” the “parts that were precious and fine and beautiful” carrying them “through the veil, out away, over” where “no one could hurt them.” (Morrison 163). Sethe murders her children in an effort to spare them from the injustices of slavery. By doing this it shows that Sethe has transcended the stereotypical image of the black women in the 19th century. By killing her children she shows that she is a thinking human, she rationalizes, and thinks thoroughly through her actions in a short period of time and decides that sparing her children would be the best choice of action. Where as an animal would rather protect itself rather than its kin, Sethe risks her own freedom to liberate her children, proving that she is no animal. Compassion is a human trait ignored by most. Sethe by attempting to spare her children while risking her own liberty shows that she is part of the human race. In order for owners to make money, both Sethe and Paul D must be demoralized, but because the generalizations that the owners harbor about slaves are not true, Sethe and Paul D are able to overcome them, making intelligent and comment decisions about their lives

The quest for profit at the price of humanity does not end with slavery as seen in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The predicament of the migrant during the great depression starts even before he hits the California border. He or she is subjected to broad blanket statements that characterize one or two migrants. One story owner was quoted to say that all migrants “come in, use water, dirty up the toilet, an’ then, by God, they’ll steal stuff an’ don’t buy nothing’” (Steinback 240). Just the fact that he singles out a particular type of person shows that the migrants as a group suffer. The mass generalizations that are made about them are largely exaggerated. By refusing to allow the travelers water, this merchant separates himself from his fellow human allowing him to let other injustices go by with out a second thought. This sentiment was common among not just merchants but Californians as well. Native Californians’ in an effort to save what little property they have sided with the owners, striking terror throughout the land, believing that they are justified in their actions because, “god-damned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They’re degenerate, sexual maniacs. God damned Okies are thieves and they’ll steal anything. They have no sense of property rights” (363). The truth is that ‘Okies’ are no different then the Californians themselves, but the truth seems to fade away when property is involved. Californians immediate classify all migrants as lower class citizens, a blight on the land with no morals or scruples. Violence against them is not just tolerable, but almost heroic. By placing the transients below themselves native California’s and landowners can justify the oppression and destruction of the migrants. The lands of California are bountiful and produce vast amounts of produce that could easy feed the masses of hungry displaced men, women, and children that reside in the refugee camps of California. Instead, “kerosene [is] sprayed over the golden mountains” of oranges and is lit ablaze (Steinback 423) while ” children die of pellagra because a profit cannot be taken from an orange” (Steinback 449). In the ultimate show of selfishness, the haves destroy the food so much needed by the have nots. They set the fruits on fire out of fear, the fear that if migrants become full they will see that their plight is caused by the very people that employ them and that once they realize that fact, revolution will be inevitable. In an effort to protect their assets, the owners endorse the public burning of the produce to both erect a lasting image of intolerance, and to destroy any thing that might be of assistance to the refugees. Yet despite all this, the migrants are able to retain their dignity. The Joad’s, the key family in Steinback’s books, meet more than their share of rotten salesmen and bad cops, yet Ma Joad’s civility still shine brightly through when she asks, “if [the camp manager of the camp where they are staying] would have some brekfus’ with” the family. Despite driving two-thousand miles and enduring two deaths as well as countless hazing by police and citizen alike Ma Joad maintain her pride and manners by offering a meal to the manager of the refugee camp that they reside in. Ma spirit, her human spirit was left unwavered by the aggression of the native westerners. After raids and chaos Ma concludes that, “us people, we’ll go on living when all them others is gone They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Never!” (Steinback 533). The enduring human spirit, the will to live and enjoy life never leaves Ma, she sees that despite what is going on in the present, in the near term life will be better. She holds on to every shred of her dignity because she knows that is the only thing she can retain. The banks and landowners can take everything, but her dignity, and because of that she is the ultimate symbol of strength in the face of massive oppression.

The shackles of oppression are always broken. Paul D and Sethe kick back from slavery to become productive members of society. Whether it is the strong, stalwart Ma or the stubborn Edna, oppression fails when put to the test. Despite its repeated failures however, the cycle oppression will be repeated. In that lies a basic human truth, the fact that humans are more concerned with their own well being than the well being of others. Unfortunately, oppression and exploitation seem to come hand in hand with economic success. Would the United States be as far as it is with out such injustices. Sadly the answer is no. It is necessary for people to find a balance between personal good and the collective good. In doing we can insure that oppression does not once again become a thing of life.


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