Racism and Ethnocentrism in Literature Biography

African American Authors

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), Bigger Thomas is a young man from the tenements of Chicago who works as a chauffeur for a wealthy white family. He smothers a white woman in an effort to quiet her, in order to prevent his being found in her bedroom, where he brought her from the limousine he was driving. Intoxicated, she was unable to get to bed by herself. Bigger disposes of her body in the furnace of the house. When the death is detected, Bigger flees, and the police and press machinery of Chicago gear up against him. He is described as a rapist as well as a murderer, the assumption being that he raped his victim. Bigger kills Bessie, his black female companion, as he is hiding, fulfilling the racist depiction of him as a murderer. Bigger is found, brought to trial, and sentenced to execution. The novel is a powerful indictment of white racist society, which creates such people as Bigger Thomas, whom Wright, with bitter irony, calls a native son. Wright’s Black Boy (1945) is his autobiographical account of growing up in the South, where the dominant white culture’s racism left its mark upon him. Wright shows how racism was so common and ingrained that it was everyday, banal, and overlooked. When Wright, as a boy, tries to earn a little money by doing chores in a white household, he is questioned by the mistress of the house about his intentions for the future. Wright naïvely responds that he wishes to become a writer.

The woman glares at him furiously, and Wright, sensing her anger, quickly tells her no when she asks if he said that he wanted to be a writer. After his reply of no, the woman calms down and shows her relief, stating that she had thought he said he wanted to become a writer. This everyday incident shows the white racist condemnation of aspiration in blacks. Wright would later, in his preparation to be a writer, read library books borrowed with a white man’s card.

Margaret Walker’s book of poetry, For My People (1942), militates against racism. Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville (1945) is a book of poems showing racist treatment of blacks by whites. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) is a classic of modern American literature. The book shows black experience in the growth and development of a young black man....

(The entire section is 949 words.)

Asian American Authors

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Asian Americans have produced an abundant literature, one of the most popular forms being the autobiographical narrative. Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart: A Personal History (1946) anticipates Maxine Hong Kingston’s widely read The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), a work of fiction that is also classified as autobiography. Other autobiographical works are Lee Yan Phou’s When I Was a Boy in China (1887) and New Il-Han’s When I Was a Boy in Korea (1928), both written a considerable time before their publication and both conforming to American curiosity about Asian American culture. Lin Yutang, the interpreter of Chinese culture for a generation of Americans, published such works as My Country and My People (1937), which was very popular in Europe and the United States, despite Chinese criticism of Yutang’s failure to depict the daily struggles of Asian Americans. Younghill Kang’s East Goes West (1937) is also autobiographical and portrays the life of exiles from Korea, their dreams of finding a permanent home in America, and their exclusion. Pardee Lowe’s Father and Glorious Descendant (1942) and Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter (1945) are autobiographical works that depict aspects of Chinese culture. Toshio Mori’s Yokohama, California (1949) does not argue for assimilation, as do the works of Lowe and Wong, whose writings were...

(The entire section is 544 words.)