Theme of Isolation in American Literature

Topics: Black people, White people, Slavery Pages: 7 (2654 words) Published: October 11, 2012
Toni Morrison and bell hooks Represent Blacks in American Literature

Two widely known and influential authors, bell hooks and Toni Morrison, share similar beliefs and themes with regards to the black community. One theme in particular that the two writers emphasize is the representation of blacks in American literature today. hooks feels that African Americans are misrepresented, where Morrison believes that blacks are not represented at all. hooks' evidence of this theme is portrayed primarily in the sexist and racist representations the characters exhibit. Overall, both authors feel that the negative portrayal of the black community needs to stop in order for a better understanding of our national literature.

Toni Morrison believes that the literature in America has taken as its concern the white man as its character base. Morrison states, "American literature is free of, uniformed by, and unshaped by the four-hundred-year-old presence of the first Africans" (205). She believes the entire history of the African culture has had no important place in the present state of our culture's literature. The American literature evident today tends to depict the white males' views, genius, and power leaving out all concerns for the black race. Morrison is convinced that, "the contemplation of the black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be relegated to the margins of the literary imagination" (205-06). Morrison's quote stresses the importance of the representation of black presence in today's literature for a better national comprehension of this writing.

Two primary reasons Morrison believes that blacks are left out are the writers themselves, and the silence that has historically ruled literature. She believes, "National literatures, like writers, get along as best they can and with what they can. Yet they do seem to end up describing and inscribing what is really on the national mind" (208). This is the interest in the white man. Writers produce, and companies publish what the public wants to read about. According to Morrison, this is not the black presence, rather views and interests in the white man. The other reason she believes blacks are left out are, "that in matters of race, silence and evasion have historically ruled literary discourse" (207). It does not stop here. It is further complicated by the fact that ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, liberal, and even a generous habit. Through this silence, blacks are regarded as shadowless in society.

Although Morrison's main stance is that blacks are completely missed in American literature, she does feel that the few times this presence is represented, it is extremely negative. Regarding literature she says, "I have begun to wonder whether the major, much celebrated themes...are not in fact responses to a dark, abiding, signing Africanistic presence" (206). Such themes that she mentions include, individualism, masculinity, and the conflict between social engagement and historical isolation. What became transparent to her were the self-evident ways Americans chose to talk about themselves through and within a sometimes allegorical, but always misrepresentation of an Africanistic presence.

hooks, unlike Toni Morrison believes blacks are often represented in American literature, however negatively. Her primary evidence is found in Hollywood movies, and more specifically Spike Lee's film Crooklyn. hooks states, "The racial politics of Hollywood is such that there can be no serious representations of death and dying when the characters are African-Americans" (99). hooks' main concern is not the violence and death in movies involving blacks, but the fact that there is no grief or concern when it does happen. In the film Crooklyn, it begins leaving the viewer to...
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