In Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills, discuss the oppression that the characters endure.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Naylor's work takes the theme of oppression and applies it in different and varied contexts.  In the final analysis, the characters of Linden Hills are oppressed by an "outer directed" notion of being in the world.  Being outer directed is what oppresses the characters in the narrative.  The clinging to external conditions of the good is what oppresses them.  Being so trapped by external reality ends up oppressing the characters of Linden Hills, controlling them as much as any force that silences voice.

The outer directed reality in which the people of Linden Hills live is one that oppresses them in acting only towards an external reality.  Luther Needed founded Linden Hills on the premise of extrinsic good controlling all.  He envisioned “Linden Hills to be a showcase. He had to turn it into a jewel- an ebony jewel that reflected the soul of Wayne County but reflected it black.  Let them see marble and brick, the fact and sleek, yes.”  Luther Needed's own life reflects the value of external reality over all else, seen in how he "sold his octaroon wife and six children for the money to come up North."  In this event, Luther Needed is shown to have valued external reality above all else.  This tendency ends up oppressing him, causing him to replicate evil in dehumanizing others.  At the same time, this same penchant to value extrinsic notions of the good above all else is something that oppresses characters in Linden Hills.  This oppression silences their voice and prevents them from finding happiness for they live in the eyes of the external other.

Maxwell Smyth is an example of a character in Linden Hills who is oppressed by the external other.  His desire for corporate advancement places all else subservient to achieving this dream:

The stakes were a lot higher there, with no room for error; any break in his stride, any telltale mannerism or slip of the tongue might shatter the illusion that he was standing behind.  Because Maxwell knew they would never have dreams of allowing a black man next to the executive director, it had to be the best man.

Smyth rejects subjective happiness in the name of external, professional advancement.  Winston is another example of an individual who subverts his own identity in the name of something external.  Even though he is homosexual, Winston understands that he cannot embraces his real identity: "Winston tore his eyes from David’s face and they followed his voice into his hands “I can’t live with you.  Not in Linden Hills.  That would be suicide, and you know it.”  Linden Hills is a reality in which the only life is an external one. Winston acknowledges that embracing this reality is a form of "suicide."  In both Smyth and Winston are oppressed by an external reality.  The need to live a life of external happiness is an oppressive one.  It silences individual identity and experience.  It is oppressive because it seeks to appropriate reality in accordance to an external notion of the good.  It is in this light where the characters of Linden Hills endure oppression.

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Linden Hills

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