Do you think that a stereotyped depiction of a minority in literature written by a member of that ethnic group is detrimental?Do you think that a stereotyped depiction of a minority in literature...

Do you think that a stereotyped depiction of a minority in literature written by a member of that ethnic group is detrimental?

Do you think that a stereotyped depiction of a minority in literature written by a member of that ethnic group is detrimental?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I agree that stereotyping is certainly detrimental, I would like to know others' thoughts on stereotyping for satirical reasons. If we look, for example, at Their Eyes Were Watching God, we find stereotypes amongst the community of Eatonville. I do not at all believe that Hurston thought all African-Americans behaved as stereotypes, but the inclusion of such portrayals suggests that she wanted to make a point. Are we to argue that her work has no merit due to the presence of stereotypes? Or does the fact that the majority of the characters defy stereotypes make it "ok"? Or consider Bless Me, Ultima. One might argue that Antonio's parents (the overly macho vaquero, the overly religious mother) follow sterotypes of Mexican-Americans. Yet the conflict between these two influences informs the central theme of the story. Or how about Ellison's Invisible Man? Or Silko's Ceremony? That novel is filled with characters who follow the "alcoholic American Indian" stereotype. Are these works worthless? I believe not. I think that each author had a specific purpose in mind when he/she developed those characters, and I think as critical readers we owe it to ourselves to analyze these purposes.

Of course, using stereotypes for a satirical purpose is always dangerous, as many people will fail to recognize the point behind it. So yes, I may be wrong, & all these characters may have been intended as accurate representations of the community. However, I feel that the authors maybe hoped that readers would recognize the attempt to point out failings within the society through those characters.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Actually, I don't think stereotyped depictions in literature have any value, positive or negative, regardless of who wrote them. A stereotype by definition is a generalization about people that ignores or attacks their individuality. It is based on assumptions that are incomplete, at best, and frequently just blatantly wrong. To depict any group, minority or not, in stereotypical terms is to reduce human truth to caricature. This is not the stuff of good literature.

In contrast, when a member of an ethnic group depicts his or her own culture in an honest and realistic way, much can be achieved in developing fine literature that fosters our understanding of the human condition. Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen come to mind, both wonderful poets who came out of the Harlem Renaissance. Their poems exploring the black experience in American life are illuminating works of art. Consider N. Scott Momaday. His beautiful narrative, "The Way to Rainy Mountain," captures the essence of his Kiowa heritage. The power of these writers lies in the truth of their ethnic depictions, and truth destroys stereotypes.

Finally, is a black stereotype more harmful if written by a black author? Is an Asian stereotype more harmful if written by an Asian author? I would suggest that such stereotypes would not be given authority because of their authors; they would just show that their authors aren't very good writers.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To underscore the post of egraham17, in much of literature stock characters do prove useful.  Often these sterotypical characters are exaggerated for use in parodies such as those of Moliere.  The religious hypocrite, for example, provides great humor as well as profitable criticism in Tartuffe. 

Stereotypical characters have been around since the time of Sophocles.  That there have been stereotypes in existence for so long attests to the fact that there are, indeed, characteristics that certain ethnicities and cultural and religious levels have in common.

Often when a person of an ethnic group uses a stereotype from that same ethnic group, humor is aroused because this author is so acquainted with the type.  The old comedian Flip Wilson made a career of typing people from his ethnic group; his humor was all in fun, anyway.  Funny movies such as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" written by a Greek woman have proven to be hilarious.  Jeff Foxworthy's comedic career has been made from jokes about "red-necks." And so on.

Perhaps the examination of stereotypes should be not in the author who uses them, but in the intent of the use of the stereotype.  After all, there has been much great literature written with stereotypes in them.  Are we now to deprecate such works as "Oliver Twist" in which Dickens so often refers to the despicably greedy Fagin as "the Jew"? Or Shakespeare's Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice"? Or a contemporary writer such as Cormac McCarthy because he has a character in a novel simply referred to as "the Mexican"? 


sharrons eNotes educator| Certified Educator

FYI:  I am an African American woman.

Detrimental is a strong word, but I do think that it can have a negative impact. In fact, the depiction may have more credence because it is in fact coming from a member of that minority group.

It will also have a negative impact because generally the depiction of minorities in literature is not as varied as that of the majority.  Hince, if you are depicting a stereotype, there is not enough literature out there to counter act the negative depiction.  (As was the case with the criticism of Alice Walker's The Color Purple for it's negative portrayal of African American men....)

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I know that writers today have enough of a hard time to get published if they write topics that will not bring on revenue to the publishing house. The books on minorities that I have read are not neccesarily detrimental, but they do delineate characteristics of the diversity in personality and mannerisms.

As for me,all books I have read about Spanish people have done a great job at pointing out these differences with respect to how similar they make us to being human.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sometimes a stereotyped character serves the purpose of screaming to people from all backgrounds not to be like this person...we all have faults.  We need to be better at looking at ourselves in the mirror and pointing out the aspects where improvement should be made rather than pointing our fingers at others.

epollock | Student

Stock characters do serve many purposes, not only to contrast others, but to fulfill higher objectives.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Stereotype depiction of any group - majority or minority, ethnic, national, religious, racial, professional or any other group - is detrimental to the group as well as to the person as to the relying on such depiction. Also such depiction is harmful not only in literature but in any kind of communication.

Stereotype depiction or description by definition means three things.

  1. It is simplified and at times exaggerated view. It does not get into the finer details. Many times it is the finer details that are most important. Mona Lisa is considered to be one of the best paintings in the world. This does not mean that any painter copying the Mona Lisa will be able to achieve the same effect of original painting by Lenardo da Vinci.
  2. It is generalised - it does not consider the variations that exist among different people within the group.
  3. People and groups change over time. But their stereotype image tends to remain static.

This means that stereotype description is generally wide off the reality. However, because of wide circulation of stereotype, people tend to believe it completely. The logic for this is "if so many people say so it must be true". Net result is that people act on wrong premises.

epollock | Student

It is possible to write about anyone's plight while not being a member of that race because it is in the end, a story of everyone's plight.  All it takes is a skilled writer. What if the minority person can't write well and can't convey their thoughts appropriately.

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