Themes and Meanings
Unlike other African American works that depict the power of racism and the squalid life of the urban ghetto, Lawd Today focuses on a black villain-hero who is largely responsible for his own condition. The narrative presents Jake naturalistically, through description and through his own speech and actions, without making any explicit criticism. His fate as a prisoner of his own prejudices against various groups and his unrealistic beliefs about how to improve his life become clear in the failure of all of his attempts at personal liberation.
Jake is an example of how black men from the South are left without moral guidance when rural folk ties begin to erode in northern cities. Without benefit of family and tradition to validate and affirm black identity against the forces of racist society, men such as Jake have no alternative to the bigotry of the media and the cheapness of consumer culture.
While Jake’s situation is particular to a black man, it also shares some of the problems of the American workingman in general. Because he believes what he reads in the papers and hears on the radio, Jake accepts the common bigotry of the unenlightened. His commentary on the newspaper headlines demonstrates that he accepts the worst prejudices of white society against Jews, foreigners, communists, and reform in general. For this reason, he can imagine no alternative to materialism and the pursuit of status based on money and power—what...
(The entire section is 538 words.)