What is the connection between the film Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee and the novel Soledad by Angie Cruz?

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Apart from a few similarities some might judge superficial (though they are very obvious and clear-cut), I would suggest that these works have relatively little in common. It's true that both deal with minority communities and families: one African American, the other Latino. But the differences between the stories arguably...

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Apart from a few similarities some might judge superficial (though they are very obvious and clear-cut), I would suggest that these works have relatively little in common. It's true that both deal with minority communities and families: one African American, the other Latino. But the differences between the stories arguably outweigh the resemblances.

Admittedly, Mookie in Do the Right Thing and Soledad can be likened to each other in that they are singular people in conflict with those around them. Mookie's position in Sal's Pizzeria is one in which he constantly feels attacked, harassed by Sal and the two sons. He also has a somewhat conflicted relationship with his sister, though this is a secondary issue. In Soledad, the emphasis is on the title character's conflict with her mother and with others in the family, but the other characters are stressed as well and the point of view shifts from one to the other. In Do the Right Thing, the family focus is actually more upon Sal and his boys than upon Mookie. When the film was released one of the criticisms was that Sal is a more rounded character than Mookie and ironically seems to be drawn more sympathetically than the African American figures in the film. If any clear analogy can be drawn with Soledad, it is that of, on the one hand, the dysfunctional dynamic between Sal and his sons and, on the other, the troubled relationships within Soledad's family.

Soledad is a "rebel," wishing to create her own life outside that of her family and the Washington Heights neighborhood which, she observes, most outsiders do not even think of as part of Manhattan. Mookie is a kind of rebel as well, but the emphasis is less on his family problems and background than it is upon the relationship between the African American community and his employer, Sal, whose "Famous Pizzeria" is a white outpost in a black neighborhood. Mookie understandably resents the way he's treated and is troubled by the centrality of Sal's business to the community: it is a microcosm of the dependence of many African Americans upon white people in general, even those who are racist (although at this point in a mostly institutionalized way) as Sal is. Mookie also does not, until the one crucial moment that leads to destruction, attempt to break out of his constricted circumstances, unlike Soledad, who when the story opens is already living downtown and trying to make an independent existence for herself.

Not only Soledad but others in her story focus more on the oppressive nature of their own family life and the compromised possibilities for young Latinas than upon the relationship between themselves and the whites, even if this, inevitably, is part of the picture of her life presented to us. Though her behavior could not be more different, her cousin Flaca feels the same pressure to be something other than what she is. To some extent, Soledad views the family as caricatures. The names are often significant: Soledad ("loneliness"), Aunt Gorda (the heavy woman), and Flaca (the skinny girl). The struggles of the family members create a rich texture in which the personal element is dominant.

By contrast, Spike Lee's narrative, powerful though it is, often seems subordinated to a schematic depiction of people as symbols in a conflicted society. Some would allege Lee's characters are stereotypes enacting truisms. In the climactic scene, Mookie ignites the catastrophe less from his own personal resentment of Sal than because he is speaking up for the community, carrying out a symbolic act. The moments in which Sal's business burns down and we see his photographs of Italian-American idols going up in flames mark Lee's drama as an existential one. In Soledad, the story is far less apocalyptic than it is personal and intimate. Both works show, however, the oppression and marginalization unfortunately endemic in U.S. society.

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